Andy Murray will use his protected ranking to enter the Australian Open in 2019, as he continues his comeback from a long-term hip injury.
The Brit returned to the sport in June but ended his season in September – playing at just six events in an injury-hit season.
After a training block in Philladelphia with reconditioning specialist Bill Knowles, Murray has been gearing up for his comeback in the New Year, where he is set to begin at the Brisbane International.
A matter of weeks later, Murray will be joining the worlds biggest stars in Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the year after making use of his protected ranking.
What is a protected ranking?
Murray is currently the world No. 259 but is listed in the tournament entry list as world No. 2 along with 2009 champion Rafael Nadal due to his protected ranking.
The idea of a protected ranking is to look after players who suffer long-term injuries.
With the ATP rankings only lasting a year, players can seriously tumble down the leaderboard as a result of an extended absence through injury.
Protected ranking rules (from ATP)
A player may petition the Executive Chairman & President for an Entry Protection when he is physically injured and does not compete in any tennis event for a minimum period of six months. The written petition must be received within six months of his last tournament.
The Entry Protection shall be a position in the ATP Rankings, as determined by the players average ATP Rankings position during the first three months of his injury. The Entry Protection shall be for entry into the main draw or qualifying competition or for special exempt consideration. The Entry Protection shall not be used for seeding purposes, Lucky Loser consideration or for entry into the Nitto ATP Finals.
The Entry Protection shall be in effect for either the first nine tournaments that the player competes in using the Entry Protection (excluding wild cards and entries as a Direct Acceptance with his current position in the ATP Rankings) or for the period up to nine months beginning with the first tennis event that the player competes in, whichever occurs first.
If a player is physically injured and does not compete in any tennis event for a period of twelve (12) months or longer, the entry protection shall be in effect for the first twelve (12) singles tournaments and the first twelve (12) doubles tournaments that the player competes in using the entry protection (excluding wild cards and entries as a direct acceptance with his current position in the ATP Rankings) or for the period up to twelve (12) months beginning with the first tennis event, including Special Events – Exhibitions, that the player competes in, whichever occurs first.
So the protected ranking allows players to enter tournaments with the average rankings position of their first three months of injury.
In Murrays case, although he was world No. 1 when he competed at Wimbledon in July 2017, his ranking had slipped to No. 3 by October so his average ranking was No. 2.
So will Andy Murray be the No. 2 seed at the Australian Open?
No. Protected rankings only get you into the tournament, but are not used to determine a players seeding.
Grand Slams do have the authority to adjust the seedings if they see fit, with Wimbledon famously seeding Serena Williams following her return from pregnancy this year.
It is rare for them to do so, though, and Murray wont be seeded down under.
As an unseeded player, Murray could face anyone in the first round, including the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal.