Up until 1914, anyone was able to put in an entry to play in the Wimbledon Championships and take to the courts. You still had to be pretty good to advance through the rounds though. From 1919, entry was restricted due to the large numbers wanting to participate. Nominations by national associations were given automatic entry, but anyone else was carefully scrutinized by a committee.
These days, players must submit an entry at least six weeks before the start of the tournament. Wimbledon’s Committee of Management determines which entries to accept based on the rankings as set down by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). Players accumulate points from competing in official tournaments over the past 52 weeks. Grand Slams, such as Wimbledon, are worth the most points, with the winners of the singles events obtaining 2,000 points, runners-up getting 1,200 points, semifinalists 720 points, and so on right down the line, with a first-round loser receiving 10 points. Winners of other ATP tournaments earn between 250 and 1,000 points, Challenger tournament winners get 80-125 points, and Futures winners 18-35 points. Players knocked out earlier get a lesser number of points. Official rankings started in 1973.
Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Singles both have a draw of 128 players. However, it is not simply a matter of the top 128 men and women in the rankings grabbing a spot at Wimbledon. Likewise, the top 64 ranked men’s and 64 women’s doubles players are not guaranteed automatic entry. Wild cards are given to certain players and there is a qualifying tournament for lower ranked players. Also, a few players may be out injured or otherwise unable to participate.
Since 1977, a handful of wild cards have been given to players who have not accumulated enough points over the previous year to be automatic starters, but whose past performances warrant a place or who are likely to boost British interest in the tournament. These players may have been injured for part of the year or may be coming back into the game after time off. The committee decides who receives a wild card. From 2003, a playoff may be used to determine some wild card spots. In 2014, eight wild cards were given out in both men’s and women’s singles. Goran Ivanisevic won the singles in 2001 with a wild card entry.
The other way to gain entry into the Wimbledon Championships is through the qualifying rounds held at Roehampton the week before the main tournament starts. Sixteen spots in the men’s singles, 12 in the women’s singles, and four in both the men’s and women’s doubles are up for grabs in the qualifying event.
A total of 128 players compete in the men’s singles qualifying event. Their selection is based on the rankings. Assuming everyone who is eligible to play at Wimbledon puts in an entry and there are eight wild cards, those ranked 105th to 232nd will fill the 128 qualifying tournament positions, assuming no injuries or other reasons for not entering. Three rounds are played. The sixteen entrants who win their three rounds advance to the main draw as qualifiers. In the women’s qualifying singles, three rounds are played by a starting field of 96 entrants. Any vacancies that occur in the few days between end of qualifying and round one of the main tournament are filled by “lucky losers” from the third round of qualifying, in order of ranking. In both men’s and women’s doubles, only one round is played by eight pairs, with the four winners advancing.
Three qualifiers have reached the semifinals of the singles at Wimbledon. The first was John McEnroe in 1977. Vladimir Voltchkov did it in 1990, and Alexandra Stevenson in 1999. In men’s doubles, Stephen Huss and Wesley Moodie won the event as qualifiers in 2005.
The Wimbledon draw takes place on the Friday before the start of the first round on the following Monday. In each of the singles events, the 32 seeded players are positioned so that none will play each other until the third round. The top seed is placed at the top of the upper half of the draw and the number two seed at the bottom of the lower half of the draw, ensuring they can’t play each other until the final. Similarly, remaining seeds are positioned so that none of the top four can play one another until the semis, the top eight won’t meet until the quarters, and the top 16 don’t play each other until round four.
Once the seeded players are in place, names of the other 96 entrants, including the 16 qualifiers and eight wild cards, are drawn from a barrel. Three names are placed with each of the seeded players. Who each player meets in a group of four in the first round is then luck of the draw.