Sydney tennis battler Chris O’Connell has been rewarded for his phenomenal 2019 season with a wildcard into the Australian Open – an inclusion that will put at least $90,000 in his pocket.
O’Connell soared from outside the world’s top 1000 to the cusp of the top 100 after reaching 14 finals on the ITF Futures and Challenger tours last year, winning five titles.
After a career dogged by injury, the 25-year-old had been cleaning boats on Sydney’s Pittwater Harbour to make ends meet before chalking up an unrivalled 82 match wins last season.
“It’s the year I needed to have,” O’Connell told AAP after climbing from No.1167 in the world to his current standing of 117th.
O’Connell will be making his second main-draw appearance at Melbourne Park this month, having also been awarded a wildcard in 2017 when he lost to eventual semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov in the first round.
Win or lose, O’Connell’s entry is a massive financial boost with even another first-round exit offering $90,000 – which is almost a third of his total career earnings of S285,000.
I feel like there should be an award for the most improved @TennisAustralia #Newks and if there was you’d have to think @chrisoconnelll and Maddie Inglis would be frontrunners! Sensational year of tennis from them. 👊👊
— John Millman (@johnhmillman) December 2, 2019
O’Connell’s countryman Marc Polmans also received a wildcard into the men’s main draw on Thursday.
Tennis Australia awarded Australians Priscilla Hon, Astra Sharma and Lizette Cabrera wildcards into the women’s 128-strong draw.
In addition, locals Matt Ebden, Akira Santillan, Aleksander Vukic, Tristan Skoolkate, Rinky Hijikata, Harry Bouchier and AO under-19 boys’ champion Lorenzo Musetti earned wildcard entries to the men’s qualifying event starting on Tuesday.
Australians Ellen Perez, Jamie Fourlis, Abbie Myers, Olivia Rogowska, Belinda Woolcock, Ivana Popovic and Storm Sanders were granted wildcards into women’s qualifying.