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Wimbledon Qualifiers: Just a short distance from Center Court, players dream of reaching the main draw

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This is Wimbledon, the third Grand Slam tournament of the calendar year, but the venue and the competitors are not what most know them to be. At this tennis club, the crowds are smaller, the cheers quieter, and the courts are closer together than at the All England Club three miles away.

While the Wimbledon main draw may not start until next week, for more than 250 players, the journey to get there has already begun.

The four-day qualifying tournament in the London Borough of Roehampton could be a golden ticket to Wimbledon’s main stage, a place some players have dreamed of competing their entire careers.

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“And actually where we stay is right next to the Wimbledon gate. Every day I’m so close, I can see it, but I haven’t actually walked through the gates in 10 years, so that would obviously be amazing.” be there one more time.”

Before Monday, Krueger had never won a match in the Wimbledon qualifiers, affectionately known as “qualies.” But a 6-1, 6-4 victory against Britain’s Luca Pow saw the 28-year-old take a small but significant step into the main draw.

“I’ve played a lot of close matches in the early rounds, but I never got over the hump,” Krueger continues. “The fact that I was able to close out is really big. I’m excited to continue my season on the grass court.”

Qualifying Benefits

Most players qualify for Grand Slams through their ranking position, but up to eight slots are reserved in each draw for the wild cards (decided by tournament organisers) and 16 for the qualifiers, meaning those ranked outside the top 100 have an unlikely chance. in Grand Slam glory.

Until last year, no qualifier had won a Grand Slam title. But Emma Raducanu’s victory against Layla Fernandez in the US Open final produced one of the most famous stories in tennis, as the then 18-year-old triumphed without dropping a set over the course of the tournament.

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

“There are always going to be some nerves, especially for a Grand Slam, but I think the good thing about going through qualifying is that you leave most of that behind,” says Krueger, who qualified for the main draw for the first time at a Grand Slam. at the 2018 US Open.

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

Qualifying success can also be a substantial payday for those in the lower rankings.

The men’s and women’s singles qualifiers have a combined prize fund of £3,648,000 (around $4,465,000), up 26% from 2021, and just reaching the first round of the main draw is enough to win a one-time payout of £50,000. (about $61,000).

‘A dream come true’

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

Adjusting to playing conditions can take time, especially for those with limited experience on grass courts. Alexander Ritschard of Switzerland, ranked No. 192 in the world, is competing in just his second grass-court tournament.

“It’s super different. I’m not used to it at all,” Ritschard tells CNN Sport after his 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 win against Britain’s Stuart Parker. “But it’s definitely a fun, bouncy surface that I’ve never seen before. I feel like I don’t have as much ball control as I usually do on other courts.”

“I’m also surprised that despite being a bit fast, it’s also a bit slow,” he adds. “I still can’t figure it out, I’m working on it.”

Ritschard plays a forehand during the Wimbledon first qualifying round.

Ritschard has never played in the main draw of a Grand Slam, but he came close at this year’s French Open when he lost in the third qualifying round. Going one step further at Wimbledon, he says, would be “very special”.

“That would be a dream come true, for sure,” he says. “Growing up, you always talk about Wimbledon as a kid.

“I would also love to play on the main site, that would be great. Those courts look beautiful…Last time I was there I think I was eight years old, just as a fan to go and watch. I don’t really remember how it is”.

Ranking Points

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

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

Snigur is playing in Roehampton with the Ukrainian flag pinned to his tennis kit and thoughts of his homeland close to his heart.

Russian and Belarusian players have been banned from this year’s Wimbledon, a move that has proven divisive among players, and the ATP and WTA Tours have responded by stripping the tournament of all ranking points.

Snigur is fully behind Wimbledon’s decision to exclude Russians and Belarusians, which she says is “very important” to her as a Ukrainian: “For me, it doesn’t matter, dots or no dots,” she adds.

Snigur defeated Suzan Lamens in her first qualifying match at Roehampton.

The removal of ranking points from this year’s Wimbledon hasn’t stopped players from competing in the tournament, which will include nine of the top 10 players in the women’s rankings and seven of the top 10 in the men’s rankings. The four casualties are due to injury and the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian players.

The tournament has the added incentive of additional prize money: the total purse is just over £40 million ($49 million), a 15.2% increase from last year, but the prestige of competing at Wimbledon also it is an attraction, since those who play in the classification are fully aware.

For some, the simple act of setting foot on the manicured tournament turf is the realization of dreams of many years.

“Wimbledon being Wimbledon, it’s always going to be special no matter what’s going on,” says Krueger. “Playing in the main set at Wimbledon is everyone’s goal, no matter if there are points or not.”

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