The 32 Australian Open qualifiers have completed their tournaments in the Middle East and are now (with a further six alternates) winging their way to Australia to prepare for their moment on the big stage – a match in the main draw of one of the four Grand Slam events held throughout the year.
For most, it has been a frustratingly long wait for the opportunity. No qualifying Grand Slam tournament has been played since the 2020 Australian Open. Both the US and French Open dispensed with the qualifiers and Wimbledon was abandoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This has meant that – with a few exceptions – players not ranked inside the top 120 at a critical date have had to rely on their home country administrators to issue them with a wild card to gain entry to one of the most lucrative paydays on the tennis calendar.
To their great credit, Tennis Australia arranged the off-shore tournament to ensure 128 players in men’s and women’s tennis were given the opportunity to advance their cause. In a perfect tennis rankings world, the 16 highest-ranking players in the tournament would win the three matches required, and play a final round against one of the next 16 highest-ranked players (seeded 17 to 32) to qualify.
The men’s results show that reality is a long way removed from this predicted scenario and that the qualifying tournament has an important role to play in enhancing the colour and energy of the Australian Open with a mixture of veterans regaining fitness, young up-and-comers new to the circuit and journeymen at the peak of their powers determined to make a mark.
Of the 32 highest ranked male players who were seeded, only three made it through the final round and are on that plane.
Two of these were ranked in the Top 16, so were expected to achieve their destiny: number three seed, Aslan Karatsev, at age 27, is having his best year ever on the tour and the Russian’s ranking of 112 is only one above his highest-ranking ever and as a consequence, he will be playing in his first Grand Slam event ever.
Number 15 seed Henri Laaksonen, who previously represented Finland – where he lived with his mother before moving to Switzerland, the country of his father’s birth – has achieved success in the early rounds of all four Grand Slam events so could be a danger man for any of the main draw seeds early on.
The other seed to make it through was not in the top 16 but was seeded 21 and is the new excitement machine 17-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who will also be making his debut in a Grand Slam event.
Two former world top 20 players also made it through without seeding: Serbian Victor Troicki, the former number 12 in the world is now 34 years old, but the second-oldest man to qualify has a plethora of Round 3 and Round 4 performances at all Grand Slams to worry any opponent.
The other top 20 player to make it through is Australia’s own Bernard Tomic, currently the lowest-ranked to make it through this year. Tomic had to beat compatriot John-Patrick Smith in the final round to be on the plane, but with a highest world ranking of 17, four Round 4 performances at the Australian Open and a quarter-finalist appearance at Wimbledon (admittedly a decade ago) he also is not without a chance of advancing in the tournament.
Along with Alcaraz and Karatsev, five other players will be tasting an Australian Open for the first time: Roman Safiullin, who won the Australian Junior Open in 2015, has never been able to bridge the gap to make it into a Senior Grand Slam since. Kimmer Coppejans (Belgium) and Czech Tomas Machac have had one taste of Wimbledon, but for the two 25-year-olds, Botic Van de Zandschulp (Netherlands) and Frederico Ferreira Silva (Portugal), the Australian Open represents their first step into the main events.