Receiving one of the eight wild cards is a financial windfall, and they do increase the opportunities for French, American and Australian players at the expense of those from less privileged tennis nations.
I would argue that eight wild cards — more than 6 percent of the draw — is too many unless they are genuinely going to be used to enhance a major’s global appeal or serve some higher purpose. That is rarely how they are deployed.
If the Australians want to use their wild cards on Australians, that seems logical, even if the record shows that most home-nation wild cards are quickly eliminated. But extending that advantage to other Grand Slam nations is nothing more than mutual back scratching.
Better use? Follow the Wimbledon example and be more open to bestowing wild cards on rising players, irrespective of their nationalities, who have proven in recent months that they have great potential. Or on stars, irrespective of their nationalities, who have dropped in the rankings.
Another option: organize a wild-card playoff for the top-ranked players from underrepresented tennis nations or regions and grant the winner a spot in the main draw. The Australian Open already does a version of this, offering a men’s and women’s singles wild card to the winners of its Asia-Pacific playoff.
That seems the right message considering that Australia is part of the Asia-Pacific region and drawing an increasing number of spectators from that zone. What seems considerably less fair is to hand over free passes to French and American players simply because they come from far-away nations who can return the favor.
Other tennis wishes for 2018:
Real, unbiased scientific research on the injury issue. It has become the dominant theme in the game and not just because the Big Five are all in their 30s. Younger men’s and women’s talents have suffered, too: Borna Coric, Milos Raonic, Belinda Bencic, Sloane Stephens and others. Do strings, balls, racket frames, court surfaces or the speed of the game need to be modified? Does the schedule need to be further shortened or restructured? Let’s let a task force stocked with experts from medicine to physics to coaching find out.
A ban on opponents wearing the same outfit. Sponsors might like the double opportunity to showcase their wares, but tennis has enough television challenges without viewers having to struggle to figure out who is who in a match.