Australia is facing the very real prospect of having just one women’s player in the singles draw at the French Open in 2023, just four years after Ash Barty won the trophy. Barty’s retirement was always going to leave a huge hole in Australian tennis, but the crisis has been laid bare ahead of the clay-court grand slam at Roland Garros.
Australia’s top two female players – Ajla Tomljanovic and Daria Saville – haven’t played at all this year due to respective knee injuries. Saville tore her ACL last year, while Tomljanovic withdrew in the lead-up to the Australian Open after picking up her injury in January.
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Tennis Australia officials are holding out hope that Saville and three-time grand slam quarter-finalist Tomljanovic will be fit for the clay-court major, but there remains the very real possibility that Australia will only have one player in the women’s main draw thanks to a reciprocal wildcard agreement with the French Open. Tomljanovic remains on the entry list despite not playing a single match this year, while Saville is said to be considering a shock comeback just five months after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament at the Japan Open.
The former top-20 player is said to be recovering ahead of time and could use her injury-protected ranking to enter the French Open if she feels she’s ready to compete. Tomljanovic also remains a slim chance after cruelly being forced out of the Australian Open – and every event since – after enjoying a breakout year in 2022.
The 29-year-old made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the second year running, eventually going down to champion Elena Rybakina. She also made the quarters at the US Open, spectacularly ending Serena Williams’ career in the process.
Saville’s injury came at the worst-possible time as she was starting to recapture some of the form that took her to the top 20. A number of injuries saw her plummet outside the top 400 in the women’s rankings, before she surged back into the top 60 last year on the back of some consistent form.
Outside of Tomljanovic and Saville, Australia’s highest-ranked women’s player is Kim Birrell at World No.113. Birrell, herself on the comeback trail from injury, has missed out on direct entry for the French Open.
But Tennis Australia has a wildcard they can use in a reciprocal arrangement with the French Tennis Federation. Rising star Olivia Gadecki (World No.151), has been mentored by Barty for the last few years, while Priscilla Hon, Jaimee Fourlis and Storm Hunter are all inside the top 200.
If Tomljanovic and Saville aren’t fit, Australia might only have one female player in the main draw. Whoever misses out on the wildcard can then try and advance to the main draw by winning three sudden-death matches in qualifying.
Alex de Minaur to lead strong Aussie male contingent
It shapes as a very different story for the men’s contingent, despite Nick Kyrgios being in extreme doubt to play. Like Tomljanovic, the Wimbledon finalist hasn’t played a competitive match all year after withdrawing before the Australian Open.
Kyrgios hasn’t played any of the clay-court lead-up events and appears highly unlikely to make a return at the French Open, with clay being his least-preferred surface. But World No.19 Alex de Minaur will spearhead a relatively healthy Aussie men’s contingent.
De Minaur will be joined in the main draw by Jason Kubler, Alexei Popyrin, Chris O’Connell and Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson, with Thanasi Kokkinakis shaping as the likely wildcard. Kubler this week made it to a career-high No.63 in the rankings, while O’Connell has registered huge recent wins over Ugo Humbert and former World No.2 Alexander Zverev en route to a maiden ATP semi-final in Hamburg.
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