Wimbledon Qualifiers: Not far from center court, players dream of making it to the main draw

It’s Wimbledon – the third Grand Slam of the calendar year – but the venue and participants aren’t quite the same as most people know. The crowds are smaller at this tennis club, the applause is quieter, and the courts are closer together than at the All England Club three miles away.

While Wimbledon’s main draw may not start until next week, the road to it has already begun for more than 250 players.

A four-day qualifier in London’s Roehampton borough could be the golden ticket to Wimbledon’s main stage, where some players have dreamed of performing their entire career.

“And in fact, the place where we are staying is right next to the Wimbledon gates. Every day I’m so close – I can see it, but I haven’t actually been in goal for 10 years, so obviously it would be great to be there again.”

Until Monday, Kruger had never won a single Wimbledon qualifier, affectionately known as “the qualifier.” But a 6-1 6-4 victory over Britain’s Luca Pau saw the 28-year-old take a small but important step into the main draw.

“I had a lot of tight matches in the early rounds and never got over the hump,” Kruger continues. “The fact that I was able to close is really important. I’m pumped up to continue the grass court season.”

Kruger competed among boys & # 39;  singles competition at Wimbledon in 2012.

Qualifying benefits

Most players qualify for Grand Slams based on their position in the rankings, but up to eight places in each draw are reserved for wild cards (at the discretion of the tournament organizers) and 16 places for qualifying tournaments. the glory of cotton.

Until last year, no qualifier had won a Grand Slam title. But Emma Radukanu win over Layla Fernandez in the US Open final spawned one of tennis’s most famous storylines, as the then 18-year-old took the win without dropping a set during the tournament.

Even advancing through the qualifications is no small feat. Players must either win all three of their matches or hope they can take a spot as the “lucky loser” after a late exit from the main draw.

“There will always be some nerves, especially for a Grand Slam, but I think it’s good to qualify as you kind of get a lot of that behind you,” says Kruger, who first qualified for the main draw of a Grand Slam. at the 2018 US Open.

“You will have three tough matches under your belt, while everyone else will come up with nothing. If you can handle it physically, it’s definitely an advantage to be able to qualify.”

Success in qualifying can also be a significant reward for those who rank lower in the rankings.

The men’s and women’s singles qualifiers have a total prize pool of £3,648,000 (around $4,465,000) – up 26% from 2021 – and one entry into the first round of the main draw is enough to earn a one-time payment. in the amount of £50,000. (about $61,000).

“Dream Come True”

At this year’s Wimbledon qualifiers, some courts have been equipped with temporary stands, while at others spectators can take up a viewing position a few meters from the action, creating an intimate atmosphere for the players.

Adjusting to playing conditions can take some time, especially for those with little grass court experience. Alexander Ritchard of Switzerland came in second. 192nd in the world, participates in only his second tournament on grass.

“This is completely different. I’m absolutely not used to it,” Ritchard told CNN Sport after a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Britain’s Stuart Parker. “But it’s definitely a fun surface with rebounds that I’ve never seen before. I feel like I don’t have as good ball control as I usually do on other courts.

“I’m also surprised that even though it’s pretty fast, it’s also a bit slow,” he adds. “I can’t completely disassemble it yet – I’m working on it.”

Richard plays on the right in the first round of Wimbledon qualifying.

Richard has never played in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament, but this year he came close to doing so at the French Open when he lost in the third round of qualifying. Taking another step forward at Wimbledon would be “very special”, he said.

“Of course it would be a dream,” he says. “As a kid, you always talk about Wimbledon.

“I would also like to play on the main site – that would be great. These courts look great… The last time I was there, I think I was eight years old, simply because I like to go and see. I don’t quite remember what he looks like.

Ranking points

Some of the players competing in qualifying have already taken to the main stage at Wimbledon. Ukraine’s Daria Snigur won the women’s singles title on Center Court three years ago and is now in contention for her first Senior Grand Slam.

“I love the grass court,” she tells CNN Sport after winning the first qualifying match. “This is my favorite place…and the grass is my favorite surface. Of course, I want to play in the main draw.”

Snigur plays in Roehampton with the flag of Ukraine pinned to her tennis uniform and thoughts of her homeland close to her heart.

Russian and Belarusian players were expelled from Wimbledon that year – a move that has caused controversy among the players – ATP and WTA Tours responded by depriving the tournament of all rating points.

Snigur fully supports Wimbledon’s decision to exclude Russians and Belarusians, which she says is “very important” for her as a Ukrainian: “It doesn’t matter to me whether I wear glasses or not,” she adds.

Snigur defeated Susan Lamens in the first qualifying match at Roehampton.

The removal of ranking points from this year’s Wimbledon has not prevented players from participating in the tournament, which will feature nine of the top 10 players in the women’s rankings and seven of the top 10 in the men’s rankings. Four no-shows are associated with injuries and the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian players.

The tournament has the added incentive of extra prize money – the total prize pool is just over £40 million ($49 million), up 15.2% from last year – but the prestige of attending Wimbledon is also attractive. , because those who play in the qualification are fully aware.

For some, simply stepping onto the well-groomed turf is a dream come true for years.

“Wimbledon is Wimbledon and will always be special no matter what happens,” says Kruger. “To perform at the main set of Wimbledon is the goal of everyone – it doesn’t matter if you have points or not.”