What does special exempt mean in tennis?

Professional tennis tournaments are held across the globe at various tiers throughout the year. Players find themselves in the entry lists for various tournaments depending on their ranking and subsequent tournament preferences. Each tournament has a main draw which has spots allocated for qualifiers, wild cards and special exempt players.

Qualifiers get into the main draw of a tournament after winning two or three matches in succession in the qualifying draw of that event. Wild cards are decided by the tournament organizers and gain a direct access into the main draw. In this article we shall discuss about the players who get a special exempt.

Selection of SE

Let us consider a scenario. A player is currently playing in Tournament A and has done a great job of reaching the semifinals or finals of that event. Now this player has also entered in the qualifying draw of Tournament B, which is held on the same days as that of the final rounds of Tournament A. In such a case, a player can be given a special exempt into the main draw of Tournament A. However, a player needs to meet certain criteria to get this spot. An ATP Masters 1000, ATP 500 and ATP Challenger events shall have one special exempt spot, whereas ATP 250 events have two.

The Law

A tournament compiles the list of all possible players who can be eligible for special exempt. The tournament supervisors contact each of these players if they are interested in the special exempt spot. Following this, the law book states the following:

“The deadline for a player to declare his intent to accept a Special Exempt, if eligible, is no later than one hour following the completion of the match that qualified him for a Special Exempt. Once he has declared his intent to the Super visor or Player Relations staff, he must accept the Special exempt, if eligible, or be subject to the applicable withdrawal/late withdrawal penalties. If, on the day prior to the start of qualifying, a player does not finish his match by nine (9) p.m. local time at the qualifying site and subsequently loses his match, then he is not eligible to be signed in for qualifying or for a special exempt; however, he may receive a wild card from the tournament if it is known before the qualifying draw that he has lost and that no special scheduling shall be required.”

A player who accepted the special exempt spot but did not enter the event is then penalized subsequently. The special exempt player is denoted as SE in the main draw. 

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