Have you ever checked a tennis draw and noticed the acronym PR or SR next to a player's name and wondered what that meant?
To answer this question, let's give a practical example. Sometimes, you see Player A in the main draw of an ATP or WTA tournament after missing the last 12 months due to injury. Player A did not meet the cut-off threshold in ranking to qualify for the event nor received a wild card, but still entered directly into the main draw. How is it possible?
Short answer, Player A used a Protected Ranking (PR). A Protected Ranking by tennis rulebook definition is an instance where a player is physically injured, ill, or on maternity leave and does not play in any tennis tournament for a minimum period of six months.
He/she can request to 'protect' his/her ranking as determined by the player's average ATP Rankings or WTA Rankings position during the first three months of their injury. This request must be lodged through a written petition to the ATP or WTA CEO.
Protected Ranking is meant to ease players back into competition after a long injury break, illness, or pregnancy. Protected Ranking is no different from Special Ranking. The WTA uses the latter in its glossary of tennis terms, while the ATP uses the former.
For the ATP, the entry protection shall be in effect for the first 12 singles or doubles tournaments (excluding wild cards and direct acceptance based on their current ranking) OR for the period up to twelve (12) months beginning with the first tennis event. PR shall not be used for seeding purposes.
For the WTA, they've made a few tweaks to the Rulebook. A player can use her Special Ranking for up to eight tournaments in a one-year period if she is out of action between six months to one year. If she is out of action for a year or more, then she can use her SR for up to 12 tournaments in a one-year period.
Unlike ATP, WTA players can use their special ranking for seeding purposes at the first eight tournaments they play in and will be drawn as an additional seed to play a non-seeded player in the opening round. WTA players can also freeze their ranking up to two times as per the amended rules.