Grand Slam Qualification: Three Biggest Matches of the Year

The WTA qualifying draw for the upcoming French Open began today, joining the ATP draw which started yesterday. These draws are usually filled with an interesting mix of young players trying to break through, older players whose rankings have fallen, players returning from injury and players not quite capable enough to get direct acceptance to the main draw. Qualifying for a Grand Slam draw is a big achievement, and can be a crucial one in a lower-ranked player’s season. Here’s why there’s so much riding on the results.

The Rewards of Grand Slam Qualification

1) The prize money on offer for a first round Grand Slam defeat is huge and increasing all the time

As an example, let’s have a look at one of the qualifiers for the Australian Open earlier this year, Damir Dzumhur. This is a player who’s currently at his career high ranking of 127 – he’s never been in the top 100, and has only played 15 matches on the main tour since playing his first tournament in 2008. He’s clearly playing a long way from the big money that the top players can earn, only earning $183,543 in six years. With all the travel expenses of a tennis player, that doesn’t go very far.

The reason I mention him is that he’s a good example of the huge effect that coming through qualifying can have. He earned $14,400 for qualifying, which is a pretty good payday in itself, and then had luck with his draw. He was drawn against Jan Hajek, also outside the top 100, who he managed to beat to reach the second round, earning himself $50,000.

This for me really illustrates how important these qualifying matches can be – win three of them and you give yourself the opportunity to win prize money far far beyond what you’ve earned before. Dzumhur’s $50,000 was over half of his career earnings to that date, and it got better – his second round opponent retired during their match, earning Dzumhur another $25,000.

This for me really illustrates how big Grand Slam qualification matches can be – if a player can come through them, huge financial rewards can follow – in Dzumhur’s case he almost doubled his career earnings in a week. Yes, he got lucky with the draw, but by qualifying you give yourself the opportunity to get lucky.

At a time when there’s a lot of talk about helping out the lower-ranked players financially (bear in mind that prize money at Futures level hasn’t increased since 1998!), the financial benefits of qualifying have never been greater – the majors are making a big effort to increase prize money for early-round losers. Wimbledon in particular has increased prize money for first-round losers by over 130% in the last three years.

So, successfully qualifying for a major draw can have a superb effect on a player’s season (and even career) by ensuring that they can afford to continue their career. Being a tennis player isn’t cheap.

2) The substantial ranking points on offer

For the sake of reference, a player who qualifies for an ATP main draw receives 25 ranking points. A winner in round one wins 45 points for reaching round two – that’s already almost double the points for one win as for the previous three. Let’s look at the example of Dzumhur again.

Before the Australian Open began, he had 272 ranking points and lay 187th in the rankings. For his efforts in Melbourne, he won 25 points for qualifying and a further 90 for reaching the third round for a total of 115 points – he increased his ranking points by roughly 40% and jumped over 40 places in the rankings for reaching the third round in the main draw. Even after winning his first Challenger title in April, the Australian Open remains his most successful tournament to date in terms of ranking points (his title got him only 90).

For players trying to break through to reach the higher levels of the sport, the opportunity presented by reaching the main draw at a major is unparalleled – because of the large size of major draws they’re by far the easiest draws to get into on the main tour, at least in terms of the cut-off ranking for entry. A couple of wins there can really rocket a player up the rankings – remember you get more points for qualifying and reaching round three of a Grand Slam than you do for winning all but the biggest Challenger titles.

For a player trying to rise up the rankings, either for the first time or as part of a comeback, the opportunity of playing in a Grand Slam main draw is therefore a golden one.

To sum up, the financial and ranking rewards that are opened up to a player who comes through Grand Slam qualification are invaluable. For players at the level where they can’t quite gain direct acceptance, the rewards for even reaching round one or two can surpass those they’d gain from winning Challenger or Futures titles. For this group of players, their three qualifying matches are some of their biggest and most important matches of the year.


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Main Photo: SPH-SYOGOC / Mike Lee