The Disappearance of the NCAA Wildcard

By Marcia Frost

When the Men's Singles Draw for the US Open was announced last week, the college world noticed that there was a name missing -- NCAA Singles, Doubles and Team Champion Matias Boeker. While most people presumed he was unable to play because of an injury, it turns out he was never invited.

For over three decades the US Open tournament committee has been giving wildcards into the main draw for the NCAA men's and women's singles and doubles champions. On May 16th, just before this year's NCAAs, the ITA received a memo stating the following:

"The USTA and US Open have made several changes in our wild card policies this year. One of those changes is directly related to the NCAA Championships. The US Open Wild Card Committee will seriously consider offering a wild card to singles and doubles winners of the NCAA Men's and Women's Championships. That offer, however, will no longer be automatic."

According to Jim Curley, US Open Tournament Director, the decision was made because "We wanted to give the US Open wild card selection committee as much flexibility as possible in making the selections." This "flexibility" was used to give a wildcard to two-time NCAA singles champion Laura Granville, not because of this year's NCAA win, but because she is now playing as a professional and has a collection of college and junior trophies.

Manuel Diaz, Matias' coach and NCAA Championship Head Tournament Director did not get the memo before his tournament. His feeling is that "The USTA certainly has the privilege to do what they wish with their wildcards, however, I never heard anything regarding the USTA's decision to change their 30 plus year tradition of awarding a wildcard to the NCAA singles or doubles winner until after the NCAAs."

Though an article in the University of Georgia paper Red & Black claims that "A recent rule change made by the United States Tennis Association... was to deny competitors who are not U.S. citizens a wildcard in tennis' fourth major," the USTA denies that Boeker's nationality (he's Argentinean) eliminated him from being considered in the Open Singles or Doubles Draws. After the selection was made, Jim Curley said, "We gave strong consideration to Matias for a US Open wild card, but in the end, the committee felt better served by supporting our young American players."

As for the women's NCAA doubles champions, Florida's Whitney Laiho and Jessica Lehnoff, they will be playing in the US Open doubles event. The automatic wildcards for the boys and girls 18s USTA Super National Hard Court Championships (formerly the Nationals) winners have been kept this year, while the winners of the ITA National Summer Championships have also lost their automatic entry.

Obviously, the decision by the USTA is not received well with the college community. Past NCAA champions who have benefited from the automatic wild card rule include John McEnroe, Bob Bryan, Billy Martin, Lisa Raymond, Vanessa Webb and Patty Fendick.

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