What is a wild card in tennis?
Let’s say that a player’s ranking doesn’t allow the player to qualify for the tournament. Or the player missed the tournament entry deadline. In these cases, the tournament organizers can give the player a wild card that will allow him to play in the tournament.
Who gets a wild card for the tournament is completely up to the tournament organizers. Wild cards can be given out by tournaments for the main draw and the qualifying draw.
Who gets wild cards?
Wild cards are typically given to local players, up-and-coming players, players from the home country of the tournament, players returning from injuries, or players who missed the tournament entry deadline.
Before a grand slam, big-name players take wild cards to play at a tournament to get match practice. This is especially the case if they have lost in the early rounds of the previous tournament.
Siblings of top players also plenty of wild cards. Brothers of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic have been recipients of many wild cards over the years mainly due to the influence of their more successful siblings.
Some grand slam winners got into the tournament with a wild card
It’s very rare for a wild card player to win the tournament, though it has happened a few times. In 2001, Goran Ivanisevic won the Wimbledon title after getting a wild card. Kim Clijsters was the unexpected US Open winner in 2009 after getting into the draw with a wild card.
Wild card swaps
This is the ugly underbelly of tennis. Nations that host the grand slams (Australia, France, and, the US) have wild card swaps in place where they give each other’s players wild cards. For example, the US Open may give an Australian player a wild card, and the Australian Open will give a US player a wild for the Australian Open. It’s up to the tennis federation in each country to decide who gets the wild card.
Interestingly, Britain, which hosts the Wimbledon Championship does not have a formal wild card swap agreement with the other grand slam nations.