Croatian tennis player Donna Vekic.
Croatian tennis player Donna Vekic. Miguel Sierra

Deal lands Wawrinka's girlfriend a Brisbane wildcard

US OPEN champion Stan Wawrinka has disclosed that his partner Donna Vekic has scored a prized wildcard into the main draw of the Brisbane International.

In an unusual exchange of wildcards for one of its Australian Open lead-in tournaments, Tennis Australia agreed to swap a WTA wildcard for one at tournaments run by Wawrinka's agent Lawrence Frankopan.

In return, an Australian woman will receive a future wildcard into one of the WTA tournaments run by Frankopan's StarWing organisation, Brisbane International tournament director Geoff Quinlan said.

Frankopan is tournament director of an ATP men's tour event in Croatia, from where Vekic, ranked No.101, hails.

Quinlan said Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis had played in Miami in 2015 on a wildcard granted by International Management Group and in return Swede Elias Ymer has one of TA's three main-draw wildcards into the men's singles at the Queensland Tennis Centre, starting on Sunday.

Vekic's wildcard is the second and last TA had to award to the Brisbane International. The first went to Queenslander Ash Barty, ranked No.273, in her comeback to the WTA Tour.

Asked if Vekic's wildcard had been a sweetener in negotiations for the coup to bring Wawrinka to Brisbane for the first time, Brisbane International tournament director Geoff Quinlan said: "No, it's not like that - Lawrence Frankopan owns some tournaments in Europe of a similar level, so a deal was done which gives our players some competitive advantage at similar events overseas.

"They (IMG) could have used the wildcard at the 2016 Brisbane International, but they've elected to use it now to get Elias in.”

It's a practice more common at American ATP tournaments, especially ones owned by management groups.

Vekic, 20, unwittingly hit the international headlines in 2014 when she was insulted by Nick Kyrgios in a match the Australian played against Wawrinka.

For some years, TA has traded reciprocal men's and women's grand slam wildcards with the French and US tennis associations, and also reserved one of each for the winner of Asian play-offs.

TA gave four women's qualifying wildcards to the Brisbane International to teenagers, including three - Lizette Cabrera, Destanee Aiava and Jaimee Fourlis - who could do with WTA experience before they take up their Australian Open main-draw wildcards.

Australia has no woman ranked between Daria Gavuilova at No.25 and 27-year-old Arina Rodionova, at No.189.

Sydney's James Duckworth, ranked No.103, would have been next cab off the rank to receive the third men's main draw wildcard, which went to 160th ranked Ymer.

The first two went to Australians, Jordan Thompson and fitness query John Millman.

Fourth-ranked Wawrinka said his achievement in winning a grand slam title for a third consecutive season, had made him "want it more”.

"Not only want it more but keep trying to push myself as much as I can in 2017,” he said.

"I'm excited that the year is about to begin and it's something new, something great, for me to play in Brisbane.”


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