How tennis rankings work: All you need to know about ATP and WTA lists

How tennis rankings work: All you need to know about ATP and WTA lists
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You’re no doubt aware that professional tennis, both ATP and WTA, uses a rankings system for all those who play. That said, how tennis rankings work is something that fans probably find confusing. After all, the system isn’t quite as simple as sports like football, which uses a league system with fixed points based on results. 

Instead, tennis uses a rolling 52-week system to determine rankings, and there’s a tiered approach to the whole thing. For example, different points are assigned in line with 250, 500, 1000, and Grand Slam level tournaments. All of this can be quite confusing for fans who don’t follow the intricate details of the professional tour too closely, which is totally understandable.

Because of that, my job today is to explain how tennis rankings work. And by the time we get done, I hope that you’ll feel informed and confident when looking at this topic in the future. Anyway, ready to learn about the rankings system for professional tennis in detail? Let’s jump right in.

How tennis rankings work – the tournament levels explained

Both the WTA and ATP Tours have different tournament levels, or gradings, that players compete in throughout the entire year. The tennis year is very full on for these professionals too, as you can see by our breakdown of the ATP schedule 2024 and the WTA schedule 2024 when you get a moment. 

How tennis rankings work for tournaments
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That said, these tours are not absolutely identical in terms of their tournament levels, so allow me to take a second to highlight them.

ATP tournament levels and points

Concerning how tennis rankings work for the ATP Tour, it’s all about the four tiers of professional tournaments. These take place at various times throughout the year, and I’ve listed the tournaments, how many of them there are, and their associated points below:

  • Grand Slam (4) – 2000 points
  • 1000 level (9) – 1000 points
  • 500 level (13) – 500 points
  • 250 level (38) – 250 points

Note that the points listed indicate the points a player receives for winning an event of that level.

WTA tournament levels and points

In the same way as the ATP Tour, the WTA Tour has a range of tournaments of differing levels during the season. These are a little different, however, so let me point them out for clarity:

  • Grand Slam (4) – 2000 points
  • 1000 level (10) – 1000 points
  • 500 level (17) – 500 points
  • 250 level (23) – 250 points

As you can see, the number of tournaments available at the different levels isn’t the same as the ATP Tour, although the points available are the same.

The rolling system for how tennis rankings work in detail

Now that you know what tournaments are played on both professional tours, as well as the different tiers and points, it’s time to get into the more complex details. As referenced above, tennis rankings work using a 52-week rolling system, which is very different from other professional sports. This means that whatever points a player earns only stay with them for 12 months – 52 weeks, to be precise.

Adding to that, tennis rankings are updated on a weekly basis, which is why there can be so much chopping and changing throughout each season. For example, if a player wins a 1000-level tournament on a Sunday, those points will be added to his/her cumulative total on the Monday (usually the day that new rankings come out).

But the 52-week rolling system puts a spanner in the works here. That’s because a player can gain and lose points throughout the year. Using another example, if, for any given week, a player doesn’t match or win more than the points he/she did for that same week 12 months prior, their cumulative tally would actually drop. 

This means that players are in a constant battle to defend points and surpass previous points earned. That’s why certain tournaments are so important for individual players throughout the season. Even the seemingly smaller tournaments can be important if a player needs to defend their points, especially if it’s a critical time of the season.

How tennis rankings work – what determines a player’s individual ranking?

Moving even deeper into how tennis rankings work now, I wish to provide further clarity on how individual points work and how this creates a player’s ranking. As explained above, players build a cumulative total of points over a 52-week period, and this is the first element of what dictates a player’s place in the rankings. Of course, the more points they have, the better their ranking will be. 

How tennis rankings work
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For example, at the time of writing, Novak Djokovic is the world number 1 in the men’s rankings, as he has 9,725 points. As for the women’s rankings, Iga Swiatek is the world number 1 (again, at the time of writing), and she has 10,715 points. Naturally, such point tallies are only gained by winning the biggest tournaments in the sport.

As for the second element that determines a player’s ranking, this bit is out of their control. That’s because the players around them are also building and losing points on the same 52-week rolling system. So if one individual simply performs better than them in the bigger events, there’s a good chance they will rank higher than the individual in question.

The influence and importance of a player’s ranking

Lastly, you may still be wondering why tennis rankings matter anyway. After all, it’s just a number, right? Well, not really. The final part of how tennis rankings work is arguably the most important of all for the professionals involved. After all, a player’s ranking dictates a range of things when competing on the professional tour.

It dictates what tournaments they can gain entry to, whether they’ll have to qualify for major events, the seeding they will have for specific tournaments, and more. All of this influences a player’s chances of success with respect to individual tournaments, as well as their professional careers on the whole. 

Of course, professionals know how tennis rankings work, and this adds pressure when they compete around the world.

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