Frank Dancevic made history last week. It wasn't the great kind, like Novak Djokovic has been writing this year, nor was it the bad. Let's call it somewhere in the middle.
By winning his third qualifying match at the U.S. Open and playing his way into the main draw, the 26-year-old Canadian became the first man to ever qualify for all four Grand Slams in a single calendar year.
Ideally, a player experiencing such success would hope to have their ranking automatically qualify him for a Grand Slam. Dancevic's rankings -- No. 269 to start the year, No. 179 currently -- don't earn him that privilege. He has to go the hard way: winning three matches at each Slam qualifying tournament.
It's an impressive achievement. Qualifying matches are every bit as important to its participants as the second week of a Grand Slam is to guys like Djokovic and Roger Federer. Getting into a Grand Slam and reaping in the rewards it brings (money, rankings points, experience, exposure) is what players on the outer fringes of the top 100 need to propel their tennis careers.
With each match brings additional pressure and bigger stakes. Losing in the first round of Wimbledon qualifiers brings players around $2,800 (probably not enough to cover expenses) and no rankings points. Losing in the final round of qualifying nets competitors $11,000 and 16 rankings points compared to $19,000 and 35, respectively, for making the main draw. For players who bring in around $100,000 a year before paying expenses, the difference between winning and losing a few qualifying matches is the difference between being in the black or the red for the season.
Yet there's a hint of emptiness in Dancevic's achievement. It's sort of like being six-time reigning MVP of a minor league baseball team or starring in a longest-running Off-Off Broadway play. Success on a smaller scale isn't kick-starting a jump to the next level.
Dancevic hasn't been able to keep the momentum going in the main draws. In each of the four majors, he failed to win a match, including on Tuesday when he lost in straight sets.