Every tennis player dreams of playing the main draw at a Grand Slam. Most players earn their main draw spots directly by their ranking. A lucky few will be gifted a wild card. Others will earn their main draw spot by winning three matches in the qualifying tournament.
And then there are the so-called "lucky losers", who suffer the cruelest of fates by falling at the final hurdle in qualifying, only to move into the main draw to take the place of an injured player who withdraws before the first round.
That's what happened to Tamara Korpatsch. The 28-year-old German was devastated after she lost in the final round of Wimbledon qualifying, taking a tough 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 loss to 16-year-old prodigy Mirra Andreeva.
It was the latest setback in a tough year Korpatsch. She started 2023 inside the Top 100, with direct entry to the Australian Open and aimed to repeat that at all four Grand Slams. Instead, she kept getting sick, and then injured her back in a fall. Korpatsch lost her first nine matches of the season, and fell back out of the Top 100 in April. She'd felt she had regained some form in recent weeks, which made the loss sting even more.
"I thought I had to be in the main draw," Korpatsch said. "I was playing too well not to be."
But Anna Kalinskaya's late withdrawal from the main draw opened up a lucky loser place. Pursuant to the Grand Slam rules, Korpatsch was placed in a pool of four players from which the lucky loser would be randomly picked.
Natalija Stevanovic, who had already qualified for the main draw, was actually tasked to pull the lucky chip.
"She said, 'Thank me, you're in -- I'm getting 10% of your prize money,'" recalled Korpatsch. "And then we switched each other's welcome gifts because we liked each other's flowers better."
In the main draw, Korpatsch took full advantage of her second chance, defeating qualifier Carol Zhao 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 to notch the first Grand Slam main draw win of her career. Her second-round opponent? None other than Stevanovic.
"It was even more lucky for us," she said.
Korpatsch isn't the only lucky loser to have posted a career-best Grand Slam result 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 Gaidano at the 1993 US Open. The 20-year-old had also lost a heartbreaker, falling 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 to Kayla Day after 3 hours and 7 minutes in the final round of qualifying.
In the main draw, she scored her first career Top 20 win over Belinda Bencic 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 in the first round, then triumphed 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 over Clara Tauson in the third round to make the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Avanesyan's record as a lucky loser across all tournaments is even more remarkable. Back in 2021, she won the Versmold ITF W60 tournament after falling 4-6, 7-5, [12-10] to Arianne Hartono in qualifying from three match points up. In her first grass-court event this year, she lost to Laura Siegemund in the final qualifying round of Berlin. In again as a lucky loser, she proceeded to reach her first WTA 500 quarterfinal via a win over Daria Kasatkina.
"It feels amazing when you've already lost and you get an opportunity to fight again, especially in the main draw of Roland Garros for the first time in my life," she said. "In the beginning, you go out on court very happy and very calm. But then on court, again, the emotions are coming back, you get nervous and it's like any other match."
Now ranked No.68, Avanesyan also recalls the week in Versmold two years ago as dream-like.
"I was already going home in my mind," she said. "I couldn't believe it when I got in, because that time they drew the lucky losers from eight people, so I was really lucky. That tournament I played without thinking for the whole week."
Only three players have won a WTA title as a lucky loser. The most recent, Coco Gauff, did so at Linz 2019 to claim her first career trophy. Now a Grand Slam finalist and Top 10 mainstay, the 19-year-old reminisced about that magical week.
"It was actually Maria Sakkari who pulled out, got the opportunity for me to play," Gauff said. "I remember my dad telling me -- I found out 20 or 30 minutes before the match.
"He was like, 'You can't lose twice.' We just laughed at it. I don't think we ever thought we would win the tournament."
The player Gauff lost to in Linz qualifying 6-4, 6-2? None other than Korpatsch, who then lost to Jelena Ostapenko 6-1, 6-3 in the first round. Ostapenko would go on to reach the final, where she completed the 'triangle' of results by falling 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to Gauff.
Korpatsch is now the one with the luck on her side, but she still remembers having to watch the player she beat go on to glory.
"I remember very well," she said. "Everyone was joking that I am the 'real' winner, because I beat the champion of the tournament."