Wimbledon lucky loser Tamara Korbach on the art of the second chance

Every tennis player dreams of playing in the main draw at a Grand Slam. Most players get their main draw spots directly through their rankings. A lucky few will be gifted with a wild card. Others will earn their main draw spot by winning three matches in the qualifiers.

Then there are the so-called „lucky ones” who fall at the final hurdle to qualify and experience the brutality of the rules, only to make it to the main draw to replace an injured player who withdraws before the first round.

That’s what happened to Tamara Gorbach. The 28-year-old German suffered a heartbreaking 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 defeat to 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva in the final round of Wimbledon qualifying.

It’s Korpatsch’s latest setback in a difficult year. He started 2023 in the top 100, went straight into the Australian Open and was aiming to repeat it at all four Grand Slams. Instead, she continued to get sick and later injured her back in a fall. Korbach lost the first nine matches of the season and fell out of the top 100 in April. She felt she’d gotten back into shape in recent weeks, which made the loss even greater.

„I thought I should be in the main draw,” Gorbach said. „I was playing really well.”

But Anna Kalinskaya’s late withdrawal from the main draw opened up a lucky loser spot. In accordance with Grand Slam rules, Korbach was placed in a group of four players from which the lucky loser would be randomly selected.

Natalija Stevanovic, who had already qualified for the main draw, was indeed tasked with pulling the lucky chip.

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„She said, 'Thank you, you’re in — I’ll get 10% of your prize money,'” Gorbach recalled. „Then we exchanged welcome gifts for each other because we liked each other’s flowers so well.”

In the main draw, Korbach made the most of her second chance, defeating qualifier Carol Zhao 1–6, 6–4, 6–2 to claim her first career Grand Slam main draw victory. Her second round opponent? None other than Stevanovic.

„It’s still lucky for us,” he said.

Korbach wasn’t the only lucky loser to record a great Grand Slam finish this year. At Roland Garros last month, Elina Avanesyan became the first lucky loser to reach the last 16 of a major since Maria Jose Gaetano at the 1993 US Open. The 20-year-old fell 5-7, 6-4, 7-6.[7] Kayla Day after 3 hours and 7 minutes in the final round of qualifying.

In the main draw, she notched her first 20 win over Belinda Bencic in the first round, 6–3, 2–6, 6–4, before beating Clara Dowson 3–6, 6–1, 7–5. Third round to make the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Even more remarkable is Avanesian’s record as a lucky loser in all competitions. In 2021, he won the Verschmalt ITF W60 tournament, falling 4–6, 7–5. [12-10] Ariane Hortonow qualified from three match points up. In her first grass-court match of the year, she lost to Laura Siegmund in the final qualifying round in Berlin. Again a lucky loser, she reached her first WTA 500 quarter-final by beating Daria Kasatkina.

„You’ve already lost and to get the chance to fight again is amazing, especially in the main draw of Roland Garros for the first time in my career,” he said. „In the beginning, you go off the court very happy and very calm. But on the court, again, the emotions come back, you get nervous, it’s like any other match.”

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Avanesian, now ranked 68th, recalls a dreamlike week in Versmald two years ago.

„I was already going home in my mind,” she said. I couldn’t believe it when I walked in, because at that time they were drawing lucky people from eight people, so I was very lucky. I played that match without even thinking about it all week.”

Only three players have been so lucky to win a WTA title. Most recently, Coco Goff did so in Linz 2019 to claim her first career victory trophy. Now a Grand Slam finalist and top 10 seed, the 19-year-old recalls that magical week.

„It was really Maria Zachary who came out and I got the chance to play,” Gough said. „I remember my dad telling me — I found out about 20 or 30 minutes before the match.

„He was like, 'You can’t lose twice.’ We laughed at that. We didn’t think we were going to win the match.”

Gaff lost 6-4, 6-2 to Linz? None other than Korbach, who lost to Jelena Ostapenko 6-1, 6-3 in the first round. Ostapenko would go on to the final, where she fell to Goff 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to complete a 'triangle’ of results.

Gorbach has luck on her side now, but she still remembers being proud of the player she beat.

„I remember it well,” she said. „Everyone joked that I was the 'real’ winner because I won the tournament.”

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