In tennis, I know there are multiple ways to enter a tournament (if there are more, I've never heard of them):

  • direct entry
  • wildcard
  • qualifying

How does a player get in using these methods? I'm mostly curious about how the players get chosen for direct entries and who gets to participate in qualifying. Does this depend on tournament size?


'Direct Entry' means that their current ranking qualified them for a spot in the main draw of the tournament. Their name will sometimes appear in the draw prefixed with their ranking (and/or seed) number. Typically, the ranking taken into consideration is what the player was ranked 2 to 3 weeks before the tournament begins (when entries are finalized), so their ranking going into the tournament might be slightly different than their current ranking depending on if they played in a tournament between when entries were finalized and the tournament began.

'Wildcard' entry means that their ranking did not qualify them for a main draw position, and they were awarded one of the spots in the main draw reserved for a wild card. Their name will usually be prefixed with "WC" in this case. Wildcards are awarded by the tournament director typically and it is up to their discretion who to award them to. Also, the player would need to request a wildcard in order for it to be awarded to them. For a typical draw, the number of wildcards is not that great - usually between 2 to 4. For a major (128 player draw) - there are 8 wildcard spots.

'Qualifying' entry means that the player played 1 or more matches/rounds in a qualifying tournament and earned a spot in the main draw that was reserved as a qualifying spot. Their name will usually be prefixed with a "Q" in the draw in this case. The number of qualifying spots in the main draw usually depends on the size of the main draw - for a major, which has a main draw of 128 players, typically 16 spots will be reserved for qualifiers. Typically, players get chosen for qualifying rounds based on their current ranking - so those ranked high enough (but just outside the range for direct entry) get put into qualifying tournaments. Some tournaments also hold pre-qualifying rounds that are open to absolutely anyone eligible to play by virtue of being a pro and paying the entry fee. This is how the very beginning professionals (or maybe those coming back from an injury) work their way into tournaments.

The one other way a player can get into a main draw is by being what is called a "lucky loser" - which means the player that beat them to earn a spot in the main draw as a qualifier had to withdraw from the tournament before the 1st round began for some reason - so they were put into the main draw in place of that player.

Here is this year's Men's Singles draw from the Australian Open to take a look at if you want to apply what you just read: http://www.australianopen.com/en_AU/scores/draws/ms/msdraw.pdf

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    Does tennis allow for sponsor's exemptions like in golf? Or does that qualify as a wildcard? – Jacob G Mar 16 '12 at 1:32
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    Tennis does not have sponsor's exemptions - but there are cases where - if you read between the lines - some players seem to end up getting wildcards because of coincidences like the player being represented by the same sports management company that sponsors the tournament. – jamauss Mar 16 '12 at 5:49
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    Here's a case where a highly ranked player (and defending champion!) didn't enter the tournament directly, expected a wild card and didn't get it. – Matt Fenwick Mar 16 '12 at 12:43
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    @MattFenwick - yeah in that case the player (Verdasco) messed up. Remember what I said about how the player has to request a wild card to get one? Verdasco didn't submit his entry to play in time, and also didn't submit a wild card request in time so the tournament didn't hold one for him. He just expected they would. To me, that's totally the players fault. Nothing that the tournament should have done differently except maybe try to contact Verdasco and find out what his plans were when he didn't enter into the tournament directly. – jamauss Mar 16 '12 at 16:53

A couple more :
Protected Ranking - PR - It allows injured (also maternity break for women) players that were absent for more than 6 months from the tour to be accepted at events after coming back. e.g. for ATP the Entry Protection shall be in effect for either the first nine tournaments that the player competes in using the Entry Protection or for the period up to nine months beginning with the first tennis event that the player competes in, whichever occurs first.
Special exempt - SE - Players who are unable to appear in a tournament's qualifying draw because they are still competing in a previous tournament can be awarded a spot in the main draw by special exempt.
Alternate - Alt - Players that gains acceptance into the main draw of a tournament when a main draw player withdraws. Usually it is a lucky looser mentioned above. For the ATP/WTA Finals there's no qualification so no LL available.

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