Arina Rodionova loses first round qualifier at Australian Open

Australia’s top ranked woman Arina Rodionova has crashed out of Australian Open qualifying in the first round after she was denied a wildcard into the main draw.

The blistering form Rodionova took to the Brisbane International last week where she defeated former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin deserted her on Tuesday as she succumbed to a 3-6, 4-6 loss to French world no. 145 Leolia Jeanjean at Melbourne Park.

She had entered qualifying for the women’s singles as the seventh-seeded player and with high expectations of entering the main draw following her 2023 campaign.

The 34-year-old returned from a wrist injury and won seven ITF titles as she surged to the brink of the top 100, but missed direct entry into the Australian Open and then was overlooked for a wildcard as younger Australians took the available slots along with French and US players as part of an exchange deal.

Rodionova could this year become the oldest player in WTA history to break into the top 100 for the first time, but will not feature in her home grand slam after the shock loss in which she double-faulted six times and only landed 55 per cent of her first serves in windy conditions on Kia Arena.

The Russian-born Victorian broke Jeanjean’s serve early in the second set to take a 2-0 lead but the persistent issues with her serve allowed her French opponent to break back and then win four consecutive games to run away with the victory.

The off-colour performance meant Rodionova was left to rue the decision by Tennis Australia not to award her a wildcard, which she hit out at on social media last week as she wrote she was “not surprised” by the call.

Tournament boss Craig Tiley said the wildcard distributions had to reflect how the Australian Open was “the grand slam of the Asia Pacific”.

“There’s lots of things that go into consideration: the age, the form coming in, how many matches they’ve played and what they’ve done over the last 12 months, who they compare to,” Tiley said on Monday.

“We also gave wildcards to a very exciting young player from China in Jerry Shang, who did a great job in Hong Kong, beating Frances Tiafoe.

“On the women’s side, (we have) Mai Hontama from Japan, also young, a 24-year-old.

“Then of course we do an exchange with the US and the French (tennis bodies), and we’ve got some young players.”

Queensland teenager Melisa Ercan produced a stunning escape act in her first ever Australian Open qualifying match against British opponent Yuriko Miyazaki but will enter the second round under a fitness cloud.

The Turkish-born 18-year-old collapsed due to severe cramps in her legs during the second set when she held a 6-4, 4-1 lead, and was told to consider forfeiting before she stubbornly played on.

Ercan struggled to move for the next three games and Miyazaki brought the set level at 4-4, but the Australian Open newcomer forced her way back through powerful serving to win a second set tie-break 7-5 and advance to the next round.

Australian wildcard Dane Sweeny also scored a first-round win as he beat Italian Matteo Gigante in straight sets, while late bloomer Li Tu lost his qualification bid in a tight 7-6 (13-11), 7-6 (7-4) loss to Germany’s Joris de Loore.

John Millman and 2023 Newcombe Medal nominee Storm Hunter are among the Australians who will begin their qualifying campaigns on Wednesday after their matches were delayed due to Monday’s wet weather.

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