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?

2 Answers 2


'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

  • 1
    Does tennis allow for sponsor's exemptions like in golf? Or does that qualify as a wildcard?
    – Jacob G
    Commented Mar 16, 2012 at 1:32
  • 2
    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
    Commented Mar 16, 2012 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. Commented Mar 16, 2012 at 12:43
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Mar 16, 2012 at 16:53

Let’s take US Open 2019 as an example

The July 15 edition of the ATP Rankings was used to determine the US Open main-draw entry list. That is more than a month prior to tournament start.

104 slots given to Direct Entries + Protected Ranking (PR)

16 slots are taken by Qualifiers

8 slots are awarded to Wild Cards

You get a Direct entry if you are ranked high enough.

What is 'high enough' is determined by 2 factors:

  1. Number of PRs
  2. Number of Withdrawals (players that were accepted directly into the main draw, but withdrew due to injury, suspension, or personal reasons)

Direct Entry threshold = 104 - PR + Withdrawals

For US Open 2019 that is 104 - 6 + 2 = 100. So players ranked 1–100 got a direct entry into the tournament. Players that ranked above 100 and did not have a PR had to play qualifiers to get into the main draw.

Hence, Denis Kudla, ranked 100 got a direct entry, Malek Jaziri ranked 101 had to play qualifiers (and lost).

In case of late withdrawals (e.g. when Qualification is already finished), the slot will be given to a Lucky loser, i.e. one of the players that lost in the final round of Qualification. If the tournament has no qualifying rounds(e.g. ATP Finals) the spot is picked by an Alternate.

There is also the Special Exempt - 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.

The rules differ depending on the tournament level, e.g. for ATP Masters:

A Qualified event for special exempt to an ATP Tour Masters 1000 tournament is the singles event of another ATP Tour Masters 1000, ATP Tour 500 or Grand Slam tournament

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