Wednesday, 7 March 2012


As it creeps ever closer, this year’s Olympics is fast becoming the talk of the tour.  It is a subject which is a regular topic of discussion in press conferences and the anticipation and excitement is evident on the faces of the players as they look ahead to London 2012.

The tennis event may not quite have the stature of a grand slam, but it provides an opportunity, which only comes along once every four years, to pick up a medal in what is arguably the world’s greatest sporting event.

There may have been reservations over what the Olympics actually meant to the top tennis players in the past, but there is no doubt that this year’s event is a major priority for all who can qualify. It is certainly no distraction; it is truly this year’s ‘fifth grand slam’.

The fact it takes place at the All England Club adds to the appeal.  Just 20 days after the last ball is hit in The Championships 2012, the players will take to the grass of Wimbledon once more from Saturday 28 July, the first ball being hit just 13 hours after the opening ceremony concludes the night before, to Sunday 5 August for nine days of Olympic tennis.

This will not just be another repeat of The Championships, however.  With Olympic branding surrounding the courts and music being played as the players walk out in different-coloured clothing – there will be no all-white dress rule – to the vocal support of fans from their respective countries, this will be an event with a very different feel to the one we are normally accustomed to at SW19.

But which tennis players shall we see competing at the Olympics this year?  The event is not akin to a grand slam where the top 104, 16 qualifiers and eight wild card entrants make up a draw of 128.  The men’s singles draw, for example, will have a total of 64 players.

However, the complexities of the qualification system mean that world No.19 Fernando Verdasco, of Spain, and France’s Julien Benneteau, ranked No.33, could well miss out.

If you are struggling to get your head round that and fathom who will be there and who won’t, then hopefully this extensive guide to Olympic qualification will explain all:


As stated previously, the singles draws will each consist of 64 players.  The top 56 players in the world rankings of Monday 11 June will qualify as direct acceptances, although each country is limited to a maximum of four players in the singles.

This is why players like Verdasco and Benneteau may not qualify.  As Spain and France both have several top players, there is four of their fellow countrymen above them in the rankings.  This is not something Great Britain will have to think too much about, with Andy Murray currently the only player in the top 56 at No.4.

As Verdasco could not compete, his space would then go to the world No.57 and so on until all the 56 direct acceptance slots are filled.

There are also six ITF places, which are effectively wild cards.  These will be allocated to players who have not qualified for the event as direct acceptances and factors such as rankings, whether the country is already represented and geographical location will be considered by the ITF. 

There is a strong possibility that the British No.2 - currently world No.163 James Ward - will be awarded an ITF place since the Olympics is being held in London.  However, this will not be confirmed until June 28 when the announcement is made.

The remaining two places are allocated by the Tripartite Commission and generally go to smaller countries that are not well represented in the Olympics.  For example, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, then-world No.447 Rafael Arevalo, of El Salvador and Togo’s Komlavi Loglo, then-world No.526, were chosen for the men’s singles.

Every competitor in the Olympics must also be in good standing with their own association and the ITF, and must have made themselves available for Davis Cup or Fed Cup selection in at least two of the following years: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.  One of these years must either be 2011 or 2012.

This has created an unfortunate situation where world No.7 Marion Bartoli, of France, is likely to miss out.  She is in the middle of a long-running dispute with the French tennis federation and has not played in the Fed Cup since 2004.  This deems her ineligible, although she hopes to receive an exemption from the ITF, which many observers feel is unlikely.

The draw will be made on Thursday 26 July at 11am.  There will be sixteen seeds, based on the latest rankings, and the draw will ensure that players from the same country are kept apart in the early stages, with two players in different halves and three or four in different quarters.

All matches will be the best of three sets, with tiebreaks in the first two sets only, except the Men’s Singles final which will be the best of five sets, with tiebreaks in the first four sets only.  A player will have to win six matches to become champion.


The doubles events are slightly more complex.  There will be 32 teams in each draw, with the top 24 teams in the combined singles and doubles rankings of Monday 11 June qualifying as direct acceptances.  Each country can enter a maximum of two teams.

However, the difference here is that players ranked in the doubles top 10 are prioritised and can play with a partner of their choice, provided they have a world ranking.  For example, doubles world No.3 Max Mirnyi, of Belarus, could choose to play with Alexander Bury, currently ranked No.175.

One peculiar scenario is that of Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, of Pakistan, who is currently ranked 11 in the doubles rankings and is hopeful of being in the top 10 by the cut-off date, but does not have anyone to play with as there are no other Pakistanis with a world ranking at present.

There are reports that 32-year-old Aqeel Khan, the former world No.349 who has not had a ranking since July 2010, could attempt to gain a ranking point at a forthcoming Futures event to become eligible to play alongside Qureshi in London.  If Khan is not successful, though, Qureshi is hopeful that he may receive a place in the singles event courtesy of the Tripartite Commission.

Once the top 10 doubles players have selected their partners, the remaining slots in the initial 24 will go to the highest-ranked combined pairs, just as it is done in tour events.  Based on recent ranking lists, the cut is likely to be around the 50-60 mark.  However, this is a very rough estimate as we will not be certain of the doubles teams who have entered until June.

The remaining eight places, effectively wild cards, will be allocated by the ITF.  Great Britain will be hopeful of receiving one of these places if either Andy and Jamie Murray or Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins fail to qualify by right.

Another point worth considering is that a country can only have a maximum total of six men and six women in their Olympic tennis team.   For example, this may affect the selection of the USA who will likely have four players in the Men’s Singles.  Bob and Mike Bryan will be entered in the Men’s Doubles, meaning that the other doubles slot, if they wish to take it up, would have to be filled by two of the singles entrants.

This would have an impact on someone like Eric Butorac, who is currently ranked No.31 in the doubles rankings, and would likely make the cut by teaming up with world No.8 Mardy Fish.  However, Butorac cannot enter as it would bring the amount of male athletes in the American side to more than six.

The draw will be made on Thursday 26 July at 11am.  There will be a total of eight seeded pairs, although it is interesting to note that the selection of the seeds in the doubles will be at the discretion of the ITF, with the latest rankings being used as a primary, but not sole, basis for such selections.

Matches will be played as the best of three sets, with tiebreaks in the first two sets only.  A team will have to win five matches to become champions.


Mixed Doubles returns to the Olympics for the first time in 88 years and promises to be another intriguing part of the tennis event.  The draw shall be made up of 16 teams, with a maximum of two from each country.

Rather than entries being done in advance like the other events, entries shall be made by each national association on-site.  Players are only eligible for the Mixed Doubles if they are competing in the other events, which means that someone like Jamie Murray could not compete in the mixed if he was not playing in the Men’s Doubles.

The top 12 teams based on the combined rankings of Monday 11 June will qualify as direct acceptances.  The remaining four spots will be used as ITF places (wild cards).

The deadline for on-site entries is Tuesday 31 July at 11am, with the draw, including four seeded pairs, being made later that day.  The event will start on Wednesday 1 August.

There are some pairs who have already indicated interest in participating, Andy Roddick and Serena Williams probably being the most well-known example.  The deadline on Tuesday, though, will likely see late decisions being made, with players who have been knocked out of other events in the early stages perhaps deciding to give the mixed a go.

For example, imagine Andy Murray was knocked out of both the Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles events in the first round.  The Mixed Doubles would provide him with one last chance to pick up a medal at his home Olympics.

Matches will be played as the best of three sets, with tiebreaks in the first two sets if required and a match tiebreak (first to ten points and win by two) as the deciding set.  A team will have to win four matches to become champions.


The winner of the Men’s Singles event earns 750 ATP ranking points, while the runner-up receives 450 points.  The Women’s Singles champion will get 685 WTA points, with the runner-up receiving 470 points.

Unlike boxing where the two losing semi-finalists are both awarded a bronze medal, there is a 3rd/4th place play-off in each of the tennis events.  Both the singles bronze medallists will receive 340 ranking points.

There are no ranking points awarded in the doubles events.


There is no question that those who miss out on qualification for the Olympics will be disappointed, but it is not all doom and gloom as there are alternative events on that week, which will suffer from weakened entry lists.

The men can play in the Legg Mason Classic hard-court event in Washington DC, which is part of the ATP 500 series.  The tournament had five of the top 20 last year, but that is unlikely to be the case this year due to the clash with the Olympics.  If Verdasco did not qualify for London, he would likely be the top seed here.

The women also have an option in Washington DC, with the Citi Open, a WTA International event, taking place that same week.

There is the possibility that players may prefer to play in the USA as the Olympics is not a mandatory event.  Some may feel they have a better chance of earning crucial ranking points on the hard-courts in Washington DC, although it is hard to imagine that there are many willing to miss out on the Olympic experience.

Players may also feel that by playing in Washington DC, they may be better prepared for the ATP Masters and WTA Premier events in Canada the following week.  The Olympics and Rogers Cup events are back-to-back and it will be a tough ask for players to perform well on hard-courts having flown straight from London, where they were playing on grass.


I hope this has helped you develop an understanding of the Olympics qualification system.  I understand that it is not easy to grasp, so if you have any further questions, leave a comment below or tweet @stu_fraser and I will do my best to help.

The full ITF Olympic rulebook is available here:


  1. Terrific and comprehensive article! Bookmarking for future reference, thanks.

  2. Thanks, very helpful.
    So max of 4 per country (e.g. Russia) for singles might help Britsh women qualify if there's no one in top 54. And there may also be a good chance of a wildcard?

  3. That is correct. The high amount of Russians in the top 56 means that those ranked just below No.56 will get in. If Baltacha was to maintain her current ranking of No.61, she is very likely to qualify.

    Because GB are the host country, there is indeed a good chance of a wild card, although this will not be confirmed until June.

  4. I worked out who the likely singles players and women's doubles and mixed doubles teams would be after the Australian Open, but I never published that. After Miami finishes, I'll give another look.

  5. I posted post-Miami qualification list here:

  6. what are combined singles and doubles rankings? Does it mean that a player simply chooses whichever ranking is higher? So, for example, the team of Eric Butorac and Mardy Fish would have a combined ranking of 39 (8 for Mardy Fish in singles + 31 for Butorac in Doubles)?????? Please clarify

  7. Yes, that is correct. Someone like John Isner would use his singles ranking of No.9 for doubles entry, rather than using his doubles ranking of No.30.