Every tennis tournament has built a following with its fans, so when the fans come to one of their events, they expect to see the best performances. Certain players have the advantage that they automatically make into these tournaments through ranking, prestige, etc. However, a qualifier is a player who made it into tournaments like the Australian Open or French Open through different avenues than their prestige or ranking. These are often underdogs or local players who fought tooth and nail to make it to the first round of some of these tournaments.
So, how do tennis players qualify for tournaments? Have any qualifier players won a grand slam tournament? How many sets are in a tennis qualifier? Is there anything like a pre-qualifying tournament to allow more players to compete?
Here is the complete guide to what a qualifier is and more in tennis.
How Do Tennis Players Qualify for Tournaments?
There are three different ways that a player can qualify for a tournament. Below is the breakdown of each of the ways players can be eligible for tennis tournaments.
The first way to qualify in tennis is through a ranking system. The ATP has a ranking system, and at every grand slam tournament, there are 128 participants, out of which the top 104 qualify automatically through their ATP ranking.
A player’s ranking depends on how often they win, which tournaments they participate in, and where they place. Only nineteen events a player engages in will count toward their ranking. If they join in higher-level events, finish well or even win, they earn more points and rank higher.
The following way a player can make it into a tournament is through qualifying matches. There are sixteen spots for the players who can make it through the qualifying rounds. These rounds typically occur a week before the main event between the following 119 best-ranked players after the initial 104. It consists of three stages in which a player will need to win three matches in a row to make it to the main event. However, there is an exception for a “lucky loser. “If a player in the main event can not play because of illness, injury, or any other reason, this player would be called upon to take their place. The “lucky loser” is randomly selected from a pool of the four highest-ranked players who lost in the qualifying round.
Finally, the last opportunity for a player to make it into a tournament is through wild cards. The final eight players receive a wild card, and who receives them is left in the hands of the tournament committee. Often they are given to local players, fan favorites, or players who were once ranked, but those decisions lie solely in the hands of the tournament organizers.
Some tournament organizers go as far as to organize mini-tournament to decide who gets the wild card. For instance, the Australian Open has three separate tournaments for this purpose. Although wildcard selections, these players would receive the same amount of prize money and ranking points as if they had made the tournament through their ranking.
Has a Qualifier Ever Won a Grand Slam in Tennis?
There has only ever been one athlete to win a grand slam tournament event on the ATP or WTA tour as a qualifier in the Open Era. As a qualifier, Emma Raducanu won the 2021 US Open at the age of eighteen without losing a single set. She got into the main tournament through the qualifying rounds and became the first British player to win a major tournament in over 40 years. Before her, no other qualifier had made it to a Grand Slam final.
How Many Sets are in a Tennis Qualifier?
Typically tennis players play 2 out of 3 sets in qualifying draw matches, except at Wimbledon. At Wimbledon, the men will play 2 out of 3 sets until they reach the final round. Then, they will play 3 out of 5 sets in the final round. This exception only occurs at Wimbledon and only applies to the men; the women will play 2 out of 3 sets in all qualifiers.
Is there a Pre-qualifying Tournament?
The USTA host pre-qualifying events to help up-and-coming players earn ranking points and prize money. Not only that, but in some pre-qualifying rounds, the winner can get a wild card into the main draw while the finalist obtains a wild card to play in the qualifying draw. The ITF also offers pre-qualifying for their events.
Both of these instances are beneficial to a player because both of these bodies work with the ATP and WTA, so participating with them can be a good investment in one’s career. Also, as mentioned, winning with a pre-qualifier for the USTA could earn you a wild card.
Conclusion: What is a Qualifier in Tennis?
The tennis world ranking often has the same list of players for a long time. Newcomers can rarely come in and rise in the order. Growing in the ranking system is so tricky that the qualifying rounds help a player make it to the main draw. Even though it is infrequent for a qualifier to win, the sheer fact that they even have the chance is often enough for the player. It can be the starting point for some players to make their way onto the ATP tour and accomplish their dreams of being full-time professional tennis players.
Qualifiers are suitable for the game because everyone loves an underdog. Even though the best players are usually the ones to walk away with the gold, seeing otherwise no-name players make it to the quarterfinals can be an inspiring story. Especially the fact that a player won a grand slam as a qualifier means anything is possible.