Injury-plagued Kim Birrell will finally make her international grand-slam debut after being awarded Tennis Australia’s reciprocal wildcard for this month’s French Open.
Thanasi Kokkinakis has also been handed a wildcard and will join a healthy Australian contingent of at least seven men in the singles draw in Paris from May 28.
But Birrell may have to fly the Australian flag solo in the women’s singles as three-time grand slam quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic and former top-20 star Daria Saville remain extremely doubtful.
Tomljanovic and Saville have both been off court with knee injuries and neither have played all year.
After reaching the last eight at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, Tomljanovic had been poised to be seeded at the Australian Open only to miss the entire summer.
The 30-year-old remains on the French Open entry list, while Saville was said to be toying with using an injury-protected ranking to contest the clay-court major after tearing an ACL in Tokyo last September.
But if they don’t play, Birrell would be the only Australian woman in the singles main draw at Roland Garros.
Hailing from the same Southport tennis club on the Gold Coast as former French Open finalist Samantha Stosur, Birrell shot to prominence with a charge to the last 32 at Melbourne Park in 2019.
Injuries have since held her back, but the 25-year-old is nevertheless Australia’s second-highest ranked female behind Tomljanovic at No.111 in the world.
“I’m so excited to be playing main draw of Roland Garros this year. It’s an honour to receive the wildcard, and I can’t wait to be out there competing and playing my heart out on one of the world’s biggest stages,” Birrell said.
“I’m proud of the hard work I’ve put in and the progress I’ve made, especially over the last few months, and I’m feeling confident that I can produce my best tennis against the best players in the world.”
Kokkinakis, the world No.104, edged out lower-ranked but worthy candidates James Duckworth, Aleksandar Vukic and Rinky Hijikata for TA’s men’s wildcard after narrowly missing the direct entry cut-off.
The 27-year-old one-time Roger Federer slayer reached the quarter-finals of a clay-court Challenger event in Italy this month after after successfully qualifying for the Miami and Indian Wells Masters on US hard courts.
Kokkinakis also won Challenger title on clay in Bahrain last month, beating fellow Australian and former French Open junior runner-up Alexei Popyrin along the way.
Kokkinakis has shown a liking for the red dirt of Roland Garros, rallying for an epic five-sets victory over countryman Bernard Tomic as a teenager in 2015 before falling to Novak Djokovic in a high-quality third-round centre-court encounter.
“It feels great to be back on the clay, I feel like I’m playing well at the moment, and have some great memories playing at the French,” Kokkinakis said.
“I really appreciate getting the wildcard and can’t wait to compete in Paris again.”
World No.18 Alex de Minaur will spearhead Australia’s assault at the year’s second grand slam.
Like Tomljanovic and Saville, 2022 Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios hasn’t played this year because of a knee injury but also remains on entry list for a possible surprise return.
Other Australians in the men’s singles this year will be Jason Kubler, Popyrin, Chris O’Connell, Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell.