A lucky loser is a sports player who loses a match in the qualifying round of a knockout tournament, but who then enters the main draw when another player withdraws after the tournament has started because of illness, injury or other reason. The lucky loser then enters the main draw, normally in place of the withdrawn player. This can only happen before all players in the main draw have started their first match in the tournament.
Lucky losers as tennis tournament winners and finalists
It is rare for a lucky loser to win an ATP or WTA tournament; Heinz Gunthardt did it in 1978 (at Springfield), Bill Scanlon in 1978 (at Maui), Francisco Clavet in 1990 in Hilversum, Christian Miniussi in 1991 in São Paulo, Sergiy Stakhovsky in 2008 in Zagreb, Rajeev Ram in 2009 in Newport, Andrey Rublev in 2017 in Umag, Leonardo Mayer in the following week in 2017 in Hamburg and Marco Cecchinato at the Hungarian Open in 2018. In total, nine men and two women have done it from 1978 through 2018. In March 1980, Kay McDaniel won a WTA minor league title in Atlanta as a lucky loser, but the WTA recognizes Andrea Jaeger, September 1980 Las Vegas, as the first lucky loser to win a WTA title (though no tournament sources have been found to back up the WTA claim). Olga Danilović won a WTA event as a lucky loser in Moscow in 2018, where some sources have claimed she is the first women to win a main tour WTA singles title as a lucky loser. Three men's doubles teams have won a tournament as lucky losers.
Lucky losers who have reached the finals of a tennis tournament and lost include Andreas Haider-Maurer, who reached the final in 2010 Vienna before losing to top-seeded Jürgen Melzer, and Marcel Granollers who lost against David Ferrer in 2010 Valencia. On the women's side Melinda Czink reached the final of the 2005 Canberra International, but lost to Ana Ivanovic, who had also defeated Czink in the final round of qualifying. In 2012, Coco Vandeweghe finished runner-up to Serena Williams at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.
Ethical issues and change in policy in tennis
In tennis, the rule for choosing a player to enter the main draw as a lucky loser is as follows: from all players eliminated in the final round of qualifying, the highest-ranked player in the ATP or WTA rankings is the first one to enter the draw, followed by the second highest-ranked player and so on (if more players withdrew before the start of the tournament). On rare occasions that there are more late withdrawals than losers in the last qualifying rounds or players eligible for lucky losers are not available, a player who lost in the penultimate round of qualifying may enter as lucky loser.
Prior to the 2005 Wimbledon Championships, American player Justin Gimelstob faced George Bastl from Switzerland in the final qualification round. Gimelstob, who was the highest-ranked player remaining in the qualifying tournament, aggravated a chronic back complaint during his second qualification match against Vladimir Voltchkov. Gimelstob planned to withdraw before the match with Bastl, and informed his opponent of his intent. However, officials suggested that Gimelstob play at least one game, as it was almost certain someone would withdraw from the main draw before the tournament started, giving Gimelstob a good chance of getting a berth as a lucky loser (as well as giving him time for his back to recover). Gimelstob did indeed enter the main draw as a lucky loser after the withdrawal of Andre Agassi, reaching the third round, where he lost to Lleyton Hewitt.
While Gimelstob's behavior was not generally considered unethical, it raised concerns by pointing out that any player in a similar position would have little incentive to play a competitive match. For example, a high-ranking player paired against a lower-ranked friend might deliberately lose the match to help his friend gain entry to the tournament, if the first player had already clinched a lucky loser spot. The possibility of bribery was also a concern.
Shortly thereafter, a new policy was introduced in Grand Slam tournaments. Since 2006, the four highest ranked players who lose in the last round of qualification take part in a four-way random draw, the results of which are used to determine the order in which each player will enter the main draw. Consequently, if only one main draw spot for a lucky loser is available, the highest-ranked loser has just a 25% chance of entering the draw, instead of 100% as in the past. This element of uncertainty helps to ensure that final-round qualifying matches remain competitive. However, this rule does not apply in all other tournaments.
After three teams which qualified for the 1950 World Cup withdrew, several teams which had failed to qualify were invited to replace them, but declined.
In qualification for the 1958 World Cup, Israel won the Asia–Africa group without playing a match, after its opponents withdrew as part of a sports boycott. FIFA then required Israel to play off against a team drawn from among the other groups' runners up. Italy and Uruguay declined to enter the draw; Belgium was selected but withdrew. Ultimately Wales, who had lost to Czechoslovakia in UEFA Group 4, were drawn, beat Israel, and reached the quarterfinals of the tournament.
The 1960–1999 European Cup Winners' Cup was intended for the winners of each UEFA member's domestic knockout cup competition. However, where a club won the double of both the cup and the round-robin league, it entered the more prestigious European Cup reserved for league champions, with the losing cup finalist entering the Cup Winners' Cup. Five domestic-cup runners-up won the Cup Winners' Cup: Fiorentina (1960–61), Rangers (1971–72), Anderlecht (1977–78), Dinamo Tbilisi (1980–81), and Barcelona (1996–97). Similar provisions now apply for the Champions League and Europa League as respective successors to the European Cup and Cup Winners' Cup.
The Intercontinental Cup was intended to be contested by the winners of the European Cup and the Copa Libertadores, but on several occasions the European champions declined to participate and were replaced by the runners-up. Atlético Madrid in 1975 became the only European loser to win the Intercontinental Cup.
Denmark lost to Yugoslavia in Qualifying Group 4 for UEFA Euro 1992. When Yugoslavia was suspended by UN sports boycott owing to the Yugoslav Wars, Denmark replaced them and went on to win the tournament.
Manchester United withdrew from the 1999-2000 FA Cup as their first fixture in the tournament clashed with the 2000 FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil. A lucky loser from the second round ties was selected to take the final place in the third round draw, guaranteed an away tie. Darlington F.C., who were defeated by Gillingham F.C. in the second round, were selected and drawn away to Aston Villa F.C.. Villa won the tie 2-1 and proceeded to the final where they were defeated by Chelsea F.C.
In other sports
It could be argued[by whom?] that US sabre fencer Mariel Zagunis fits this description, as she did not qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics in direct qualifying competition (losing the slot on the US team to Sada Jacobson). However, when Nigeria withdrew their fencer from the Games, her slot went to the highest ranked fencer who had not already qualified — Zagunis. Zagunis went on to win the gold medal in Women's Sabre at the 2004 Games.
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