The Grand Slam tournaments, also referred to as majors, are the world’s four most important annual tennis events. To qualify for Grand Slams for a tennis player is a dream similar to a football player dreaming to represent his/her nation at the World Cup.
What makes these tournaments special are the ranking points offered, prize money, the greatest strength and size of field. Also, Grand Slams are the only tournaments where “best of” sets for men is 5. Interestingly, players have to stick with a prudent framework to qualify for grand slams.
As per International Tennis Federation’s global tennis report released in 2019, there were a total of 3,873 professional players. Approximately 39% are women (dominated by North Americans & Europeans) and the remaining 61% are men.
For every junior and professional tennis player, playing in Grand Slams is the ultimate goal. The crowd, the competition, the media coverage, the money…everything is top notch and a player always dreams of playing in such a magnificent set-up.
SO HOW DO THE GRAND SLAMS COME UP WITH A MAIN DRAW OF 128 PLAYERS?
Do they simply pick up the Top 128 ranked players in the world? NO.
There are three ways in which professional players can qualify:
- Rank among the top 104 players who sign up for the Grand Slam
- Win three rounds in the qualifying stage before the main event commences
- Receive a Wild Card
So, a total of 128 players get to play in the main draw of each Grand Slam:
104 (through ranking)
16 (through qualifying)
08 (through wild cards)
LET’S GET INTO A BIT OF DETAILS, SHALL WE?
104 out of the 128 spots available are taken up via the rankings mode. Now, these 104 spots need not be the Top 104 ranked players in the world. These typically are among the top 104 who signed up for that Grand Slam. It’s normal for each of the four Slams to witness a lot of absences due to injuries and personal problems.
For eg: if World #6, World #11, World #55 and World #103 decide to not sign up for the French Open, that means the #105, #106, #107 and #108 ranked players will qualify for the main draw.
Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) have also allowed a way in for players coming back from elongated injury absences through Protected Ranking.
Protected Ranking is a system used to help players ease back into competition after an injury break. is meant to help players coming back to the tour from injury after at least a 6-month break. The player’s ranking is frozen based on his average ranking during the first three months of injury. A player can use the protected ranking for the first nine tournaments or up to nine months, whichever comes first.
Protected ranking can only be used for entry to tournaments. It cannot be used for seeding purposes.
Since world rankings are based on the total points accumulated while playing tournaments, this article provides an in-depth understanding of how tennis players earn points.
QUALIFY FOR GRAND SLAMS
16 out of the 128 spots are earned by the “Qualifiers”. These hard-working players go through a pool of 128 players in the qualifying rounds. Since the top 104 ranked players go straight into the main draw, the next 119 ranked players who sign up for a Grand Slam get a spot in the qualifying.
Each qualifying round participant needs to win 3 rounds before making it to the main draw.
There has never been a case where a qualifier has gone onto win a Grand Slam. However, for women, the farthest a qualifier has reached at a major is the semi-finals with Alexandra Stevenson defeating another qualifier Jelena Dokic in the quarter-finals at the Wimbledon Championships of 1999. For Men, the farthest a qualifier has reached at a major is the semi-finals with John Mcnroe reaching the 1977 Wimbledon Semi Finals.
The last but not the least way to qualify for a Grand Slam is by receiving a wild card. The 8 lucky players who receive them do not have to go through the qualifying stages or play any extra matches. They are guaranteed a spot straight into the main draw. They are entitled for the same amount of points and money had they entered via the ranking system.
Wildcard is an “invitation” that allows a player to participate in an event to which he or she would not qualify with their current ranking. It is usually awarded by a tournament’s organization.
These organisations normally give them to five different types of players: local players, young and up-and-coming players, players returning from injuries, winners of wildcard tournaments, and recipients of wildcard swaps.
These invitations are given to players who the tournament’s organization thinks fans will like, so at the end of the day, all a player can do is ask for the wildcard and hope for the best.
A lot goes on behind the scenes in a Grand Slam tournament on how to make it super-competitive, inclusive and fair. The road has not always been smooth for the organizers and the national federations.
Ranking point system has always had a few vocal dissidents in terms of it’s fairness. Having said that, it doesn’t take away anything from the remarkable job ITF, ATP and WTA along with the support of federations from 195 tennis playing countries.
They truly have done enough to keep the sport relevant, for now.