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‘Clear I’m not liked’: Aussie No.1 claims ‘years’-long feud behind Aus Open snub after shock exit

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Australia’s top ranked woman has accused Tennis Australia of ignoring her efforts and treating her with disrespect after she was beaten in the first round of qualifying at Melbourne Park.

Arina Rodionova was overlooked for a wildcard into the Australian Open main draw despite becoming the nation’s highest ranked player after a scintillating 2023 in which she won 79 matches and seven ITF titles to reach no. 105 in the world.

The 34-year-old, who made headlines after she beat former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the Brisbane International last week, was forced into qualifying as lower-ranked Daria Saville was issued a wildcard along with a trio of young Australian prospects and several overseas players.

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Rodionova said she struggled to “find her game” after an emotional week following the decision and lost in straight sets 3-6, 3-6 to French world no. 145 Leolia Jeanjean on Tuesday.

She double-faulted six times and only landed 55 per cent of her first serves in windy conditions on Kia Arena.

Arina Rodionova upset 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin in the Brisbane International but lost her first qualifying match for the grand slam in Melbourne on Tuesday. Picture: Chris Hyde / Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Rodionova detailed a decade’s worth of grievances against Tennis Australia, to whom she switched allegiance in 2014 after relocating to Melbourne from Russia with her family.

“The only regret I have from today is I think I gave Tennis Australia something to celebrate … I think they’re very pleased with my result today, and that’s what makes me upset,” she said.

“I did everything I could to possibly deserve (a wildcard) … absolutely (it feels personal). It started years and years ago, and there were so many incidents that happened between myself and people in charge.

“It is very clear to me that I am not liked, and it’s not just clear to me, it’s clear to every single Australian tennis player.”

Fellow singles qualifying entrant John Millman said he was “baffled” by the decision to ignore Rodionova, who arrived at Melbourne exhausted and lost in straight sets 3-6, 3-6 to French world no. 145 Leolia Jeanjean on Tuesday.

“You can’t be Australia’s top ranked player in female tennis and be overlooked … I am a bit baffled,” Millman told the ABC Tennis podcast.

At 34, Rodionova could become the oldest player in WTA tour history to reach the top 100 for the first time. She is currently ranked 105 in the world. Picture: Patrick Hamilton / AFPSource: AFP

“It came down in the end to Arina and Dasha (Saville). I don’t think it should’ve even come down to that because they should’ve been the first two ladies that were given a wildcard.

“ (Rodionova) has gone out there and shown an unbelievable appetite for hard work and winning matches, and she’s done it the hard way.”

Rodionova said she had no hard feelings towards Saville as she claimed Tennis Australia had known months in advance it would not be issuing her a wildcard but kept the decision secret until last Friday.

“I didn’t really have an issue with them not giving it to me, I had more of an issue with (how) they left it for so long and they pretended they were looking at the results in Brisbane,” she said.

“The decision was probably made before that they didn’t want to give it to me, and they should’ve announced it way before because it just brought such unnecessary stress to myself, also to Dasha … she was also thinking about it.

Rodionova says she bears no ill will towards Daria Saville, who won the final wildcard spot in the women’s singles draw at the Australian Open. Picture: Patrick HAMILTON / AFPSource: AFP

“It’s just disrespectful towards players because I found out Friday evening and had to play in two days.”

Rodionova said she would take a short break before travelling to Asia as she tries to crack the world top 100 for the first time.

She will become the oldest top 100 debutant in WTA tour history if she can bring her 2023 form onto the first-tier circuit this year.

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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