In order to qualify for just about any high-level tennis tournament, players must have a certain rank. This is the guaranteed way to get into tournaments, but there are other options as well.
One way to be entered into the tournament draw is to receive a wild card. Most tennis fans have heard of wild cards in the past, but they might not know exactly what they are, or how tennis players receive them in the first place.
Not every tournament follows the same guidelines to handing out wild cards, but that is part of what makes it so unique. It can be a way to get a rising player in a tournament, an aging player one last try, or as a way to show good faith in general.
What Is a Wild Card?
A wild card is another way of saying that a player receives an invitation to enter an event without qualifying with their ranking.
For example, a player ranked outside of the top 200 will not be able to directly qualify for any of the Grand Slam tournaments, let alone top-level ATP and WTA events. A way to get around that is to receive a wild card to enter directly.
Who Decides On Wild Cards?
In just about every case, the ultimate decision comes down to the tournament director. There is no set amount of wild cards available for each tournament, but there have been some developing trends over the last few years.
Grand Slam events will aim to hand out around eight wildcards. Masters 1000 events will usually hand out four or five, while anything smaller than that will usually hand out around three. In almost every tournament, there is a good amount of bias shown towards domestic players.
Not only are they likely to draw up more fanfare, but it’s easier for them to get to that tournament as opposed to flying halfway across the country.
Who Qualifies For a Wild Card?
This is where things get a little complicated. There is no set definition for who receives a wild card, but they usually go to a few different types of players.
Since there are only a small number of spots reserved for wild card players, tournament organizers need to be very picky on who they hand them out to. In almost every scenario, there are a lot more people hoping to get a wild card than spots available.
While this is not a complete list of reasons a player receives a wild card, this is a pretty good description of the different types of players who get this opportunity. For the most part, it is pretty self-explanatory why it would help the player and the tournament to give a wild card out.
1. Rising Young Players
Nothing is more exciting than a very young tennis player breaking through for the first time. Tennis has a history of teenagers stealing the spotlight, and they quickly become the talk of the tennis world.
The most recent example of this came in the form of Coco Gauff. When she first burst onto the scene, her ranking would not give her direct entry to big tournaments.
That is why during that first breakout of her career, tournaments were bending over backwards to give her wild card entries. They knew that she would help sell tickets, and she was also more than capable of competing with the best in the world.
2. Older Players Returning From Injury
On the other side of the spectrum are older players trying to get back into form. If a tennis player is out for too long, their ranking plummets to the point that they do not qualify for any big tournaments. Andy Murray recently had that happen to him, even though he spent 41 weeks as the number one player in the world.
Somebody as established as Murray is always going to be near the top for potential wild cards. Fans want to see him come back, and more often than not, these players are much better than the ranking would indicate.
3. Wild Card Tournament Winners
A decent amount of tournaments will hold wild card tournaments beforehand to award one of the wild card spots fairly. Instead of any favoritism, players have to earn one of the spots by going through some grueling matches.
Most of the time, players who earn wild cards this way don’t really do too much in the actual tournament, but it is impressive to make it that far just the same.
4. Local Players
Wild cards for local players are usually more for smaller tournaments trying to drum up more notoriety. More fans might be willing to pay for tickets and check things out if there is some local interest.
This is also a reason why smaller tournaments might be able to bring in top players who normally would not bother with a tournament that size. Hometown tournaments for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic have all benefited from this.
5. Favors to Grand Slam Countries
Although nothing is entirely set in stone, there has always been an unspoken rule of Grand Slam countries helping each other out. For example, the Australian Open usually makes sure that some of the wild card spots go to players from England, France, and the United States.
The same goes for the other three Grand Slams. The host country of each Grand Slam also makes sure that their side is well represented. This is one of the perks of being a Grand Slam country in the first place.
Other Ways To Receive Wild Cards For Grand Slam Tournaments
Australian Open: For the Australian Open, USTA rewards the american man and woman who wins the Australian Open Wild Card Challenge a ticket to the singles main draw.
French Open: Roland Garros Wild Card Challenge, is a tournament that utilizes clay-court pro tournaments to award an American man and woman a main draw wild card into the main-draw.
Wimbledon: A week prior to the tournament, Ilkley Challenger are played in bradford, where the winner as a tradition receives a main draw wild card.
US Open: USTA US Open Wild Card Challenge is a tournament where the winners of other smaller tournaments across the US, are playing against each other for a ticket to the main draw at the US Open.
Can Wildcards Have Any Actual Success?
All it takes is a chance for any tennis player to make a deep run in a tournament. In some cases, wild card recipients have gone on to win the entire tournament. Players like Goran Ivanišević and Kim Clijsters won Grand Slam singles titles as a wild card.
Several others have won smaller tournaments as well as wild card recipients. More often than not, wild card winners don’t exactly go too far, but surprises are what make things enjoyable.
Why Wild Cards In Tennis Are Here To Stay
Every once in a while, there might be a controversy about who receives a wild card in a tennis tournament.
However, for the most part, these are seen as nothing but positive for both players and tournament organizers. Players get some leeway if their ranking does not currently fit the criteria, and the tournament gets more interest.