Chinese tennis player Wu Di, who made history earlier this year by becoming the first Chinese man to play in a Grand Slam tournament, has qualified for next year’s tournament via the same process – by winning the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff. The 22-year-old has not, by his own admission, had a good year, but said this gives him focus for the future. Wu also qualified for this year’s tournament, but lost in the first round to Croatia’s Ivan Dodig in four sets.
Chinese men still have a long way to go to catch the women: Wu’s world ranking of 207 makes him the best player in China and he won his spot in Melbourne by beating compatriot Zhang Ze (no. 249). No other Chinese man ranks in the Top 500. On the women’s side, the Asia-Pacific wildcard spot also went to a Chinese player, 19-year-old Tang Haochen, who beat Japan’s Risa Ozaki in the deciding match, and will make her Grand Slam debut next year.
Three of the Grand Slams (Wimbledon excepted) have a cosy arrangement whereby one Australian man and woman is granted wildcard entry into each of the US and French Opens, and reciprocal arrangements are made for American and French players at the other two Grand Slams. Since the Australian Open started to market itself as the Grand Slam of Asia Pacific, one of its wildcard slots has gone to the winner of the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff, starting from last year. All four singles slots so far have been won by Chinese players.
It’s unlikely that Wu Di will make much progress in Melbourne, but one woman who will be keen to capitalize on a great 2013 is Zhang Shuai. Now ranked no. 52 in the world, having overtaken Zheng Jie to become China’s no. 3, Zhang started the year at no. 127, but an incredible autumn saw her win WTA titles in both Guangzhou and Nanjing, while also reach the final in Ningbo. Her fine domestic form is obviously helped by the number of tournaments held in China, with five slated for next year, including the Hong Kong Open, which revealed tournament details this week.