Sports · June 23, 2022

Wimbledon Qualifiers: Just a short distance from Center Court, players dream of reaching the main draw

This is Wimbledon – the third Grand Slam tournament of the calendar year – but the venue and competitors are not quite as many know it. At this tennis club, the crowd is smaller, the cheers quieter, and the courts are closer than the All England Club three miles away.

While Wimbledon’s main draw may not start until next week, the journey to get there has already begun for over 250 players.

The four-day qualifying tournament in the London Borough of Roehampton may be a golden ticket to Wimbledon’s main stage, a place where some players have dreamed of competing for their entire career.

“And actually, where we stay is right next to the Wimbledon gate. Every day I’m so close, I see it, but I haven’t actually crossed the gates in 10 years, so it would obviously be great to be there once again.”

Before Monday, Krueger had never won a match at Wimbledon qualifiers, affectionately known as “which”. But a 6-1 6-4 win over Briton Luca Pow saw the 28-year-old take a small but significant step towards the main draw.

“I played a lot of close matches in the early rounds, but I never really got over the hump,” continues Krueger. “The fact that I was able to go through until elimination is really important. I am thrilled to continue my season on grass.”

Krueger competed in the men's singles category at Wimbledon in 2012.

Benefits of qualifying

Most players qualify for the Grand Slam based on ranking, but up to eight slots in each draw are reserved for wild cards – decided by the tournament organizers – and 16 for qualifiers, which means those ranked well outside the top 100 have an unlikely chance at Grand Slam glory.

Until last year, no qualifier had ever won a Grand Slam title. But Emma Raducanu’s victory over Layla Fernandez in the US Open final produced one of tennis’s most famous storylines as the then 18-year-old triumphed without losing a set over the course of the tournament.

Even progressing through qualification is no small feat. Players must either win all three games or hope they can take a place as a “lucky loser” after a late withdrawal from the main draw.

“There will always be a bit of nervousness, especially for a slam, but I think the good thing about getting through qualifying is that you somehow get most of it behind you,” says Krueger, who qualified for first. time for the main draw of a grand slam at the 2018 US Open.

“You will have three difficult games behind you, while everyone else is coming up with nothing. If you can handle it physically, it is definitely an advantage to be able to qualify.”

Success in qualifying can also be a substantial payday for those lower rankings.

The men’s and women’s qualifiers singles have a combined prize pool of £ 3,648,000 (around $ 4,465,000) – a 26% increase from 2021 – and just making it to the first round of the main draw is enough to earn a one-time payout. of £ 50,000 (approximately $ 61,000).

‘A dream come true’

At this year’s Wimbledon Qualifiers, some courts have been outfitted with temporary stands, while in others, spectators can occupy an observation position just meters from the action, creating an intimate atmosphere for the players.

Adapting to playing conditions can take time, particularly for those with little experience on grass pitches. Swiss Alexander Ritschard, ranked No. 192 in the world, he is competing in his second tournament on the grass.

“It’s very different. I’m absolutely not used to it,” Ritschard told CNN Sport after his 4-6 6-1 6-2 win over Britain’s Stuart Parker. “But it’s definitely a fun surface with rebounds I’ve never seen before. I feel like I don’t have as much ball control as I usually do on other courts.

“I’m also surprised that while it’s a bit fast, it’s also a bit slow,” he adds. “I still can’t figure it out, I’m working on it.”

Ritschard plays a forehand during the first qualifying round at Wimbledon.

Ritschard has never played in the main draw of a Grand Slam, but came close to this year’s French Open when he lost in the third qualifying round. Taking a step forward at Wimbledon, he says, would be “very special”.

“It would be a dream come true, for sure,” he says. “Growing up, you always talk about Wimbledon as a child.

“I’d also love to play on the main site, that would be great. Those courts are gorgeous … Last time I was there I think I was eight, just like a fan to go watch. I don’t quite remember what it looks like. “.

points in the standings

Some players competing in the qualifiers have already graced the main stage at Wimbledon. Ukrainian Daria Snigur won the women’s singles title at Center Court three years ago and is now a candidate to compete in her first senior grand slam.

“I love the grass pitch,” he told CNN Sport after winning his opening qualifier match. “This is my favorite place … and grass is my favorite surface. Of course I want to play on the main draw.”

Snigur is playing Roehampton with the flag of Ukraine pinned to his tennis kit and the thoughts of his homeland close to his heart.

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon this year – a move that proved divisive among players – and ATP and WTA Tours responded by stripping the tournament of all points in the leaderboard.

Snigur fully supports Wimbledon’s decision to exclude Russians and Belarusians, which she believes is “very important” to her as a Ukrainian: “For me, it doesn’t matter, with or without points,” she adds.

Snigur defeated Suzan Lamens in her opening qualifying match in Roehampton.

The removal of points in the rankings from Wimbledon this year hasn’t deterred players from participating in the tournament, which will include nine of the top 10 players in the women’s rankings and seven of the top 10 in the men’s rankings. The four absent are due to the injury and the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian players.

The tournament has the added incentive of an extra cash prize – the total purse is just over £ 40 million ($ 49 million), a 15.2% increase from last year – but also the prestige of competing at Wimbledon is a fascination – as those who play in the qualifiers are fully aware of it.

For some, just setting foot on the tournament’s manicured lawns is the fulfillment of years of dreams.

“Wimbledon being Wimbledon, he will always be special regardless of whatever is going on,” says Krueger. “Playing on the main set of Wimbledon is everyone’s goal, no matter if there are points or not.”