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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Looking at the ITF's Pro Circuit Restructuring; Chang and Hiltzik Reach Pro Circuit $25K Finals

At the end of last month, the International Tennis Federation announced a change in the structure of the pro circuit it sponsors. Its lowest level events (formerly $10,000 prize money, now $15,000) will be converted to what the ITF calls a Transition Tour and will no longer award ATP/WTA points. Instead, ITF Entry points will be earned, which will allow entry into the higher level ITF Pro Circuit events.

Although this sounds straightforward, it is complicated by the fact that the only higher level on the ITF Men's Pro Circuit is $25,000, with the other higher dollar events all ATP sanctioned Challengers, while on the ITF Women's Pro Circuit, there are four higher levels: $25K, $60K, $80K and $100K. This means the ITF will need to create an entry point structure that works for both, and for the men, that will require much more collaboration with the tour's governing body.

The ITF can not be accused of not doing its homework.  Stakeholder surveys were undertaken last year, one for players and one for non-players, and the results of those surveys is available via links in this article, which explains the just-announced change. I do find it odd that the questions revolve around the 2013 calendar year, when 2015 or certainly 2014 data would have been available at the time the survey was developed.

The impetus for change seems to be too many players chasing too few points and dollars, and the ITF says it is aiming for a pool of 750 professional men's tennis players and 750 professional women's players. I'm not sure where this number comes from, perhaps it is a mathematical determination of a pool big enough to encompass those who may exceed the break-even professional ranking, which is 336 for men and 253 for women. Some of this may be semantics, as it is difficult to imagine that the over 6000 Pro Circuit competitors who did not earn any prize money during 2013 consider themselves professionals.

But discouraging those 6000 and the thousands more that make very little has its drawbacks. It amounts, basically, to saving the players from themselves. Now anyone with the money to travel can usually find a place in lowest-level qualifying, and maybe that will continue on the Transition Tour, but with the link to ATP/WTA points less direct, that may serve as a deterrent. Of course qualifying entry fees remain a major source of revenue for tournaments, so smaller draws could mean shortfalls.
"The next step is to ensure the structure of professional tennis is fit for purpose through a targeted job opportunities approach that will create a smaller group of true professional players. At the same time it is imperative that we do not reduce the chance for players of any nation or background to start their journey towards the top 100."--ITF president Dave Haggerty
Those are two goals that will not be easy to reconcile, but the ITF is going to try. How will this impact the junior tour? I assume the ITF will make changes to its junior exempt program, which provides entry into various levels of Pro Circuit events for those with a Top 20 ITF year-end ranking. Will this new structure make the junior to Top 100 pro pathway easier to navigate? Maybe if it can eliminate the grueling 128-qualifying draws for some of the US Pro Circuit Futures, but right now, it's hard to see just where and how the pathway widens for juniors.

And I'm sure Stephen Amritraj, the head of Collegiate Tennis at the USTA, is busy studying how this re-structuring will impact Americans playing college tennis. It could mean more players from around the world will gravitate to college rather than grind through the new Transition Tour, but that is just speculation until the new system is up and running in 2019.

In the two $25,000 tournaments being played this week on the USTA Pro Circuit, Americans Jared Hiltzik and Sophie Chang have advanced to the Sunday's singles finals by defeating the tournaments' top seeds. The unseeded Hiltzik defeated Mackenzie McDonald 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 coming from 4-2 down in the third set at the Memphis Futures. Hiltzik, the former Illinois star, has reached a Futures final three times before, losing all three championship matches. He will play unseeded Takanyi Garanganga of Zimbabwe in the final.   McDonald did leave with one title, in doubles, when he and Great Britain's Lloyd Glasspool, the No. 4 seeds, defeated top seeds Philip Bester of Canada and Alex Lawson 6-2, 7-6(3).

Chang will also be seeking her first Pro Circuit singles title in Jackson Mississippi after defeating Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. The 19-year-old wild card also was down 4-2 in the final set and came back to win four straight games and the match. Chang will face No. 2 seed Barbara Haas of Austria in her first ITF Pro Circuit singles final. Haas defeated No. 8 seed Usue Arconada 6-3, 6-1 in the other semifinal.


russ said...

Thanks for the analysis. I've tried to think about the impact of this new rule a number of times, and I remain baffled by it. I'm not even sure what its intent is. To make the minor leagues less of a money drain, I suppose. But why not increase the purses even beyond the proposed 15K? That seems to me a simpler and more direct method than the ITF's attempt to streamline the process for "true" professionals into the professional money earning ranks by eliminating the detritus of non-professionals? But how exactly does it accomplish this feat? It seems like all they do is simply change names: the "futures" becomes "transition" and "ATP" points become "ITF" points? And I suppose at some point a player will have accrued enough ITF transition tour points to transition onto the Challenger circuit. So how is that different than accruing ATP points and making the challenger qualie draw now? You still need points either way. Are the points going to be easier to get without the non-professionals? They're basically a non-factor now anyway. If a "true" professional is blocked from advancing by this cohort of players, maybe it's time for this particular professional to consider another line of work. And how does this limiting supply solution increase the income of the "true" professionals, if these non-professionals aren't taking any money now anyway.

As Colette mentioned, one unintended impact may be that the number of non-professionals entering the futures, er Transition Tour may decrease thereby depriving the tournaments additional revenue which may lead to less tournaments. But is the participation by non-professionals something tennis should eliminate? Besides, these "non-professionals" are actually a very tiny group and even if you eliminated them, you still would have the talented juniors, current and just graduated college players, and tour veterans who make up the big majority of the current futures field. You still would have basically the same pool of tennis players that you do now.

Anyway, I'm certain I'm missing something, but all it seems to me is that it's a semantic game. The ITF doesn't want to increase purses and as a fig leaf to demonstrate it is aware of the problem proposes a solution that looks incredibly similar to the current system.

Jon King Atlanta said...

Great news. So many now chase points like they did in juniors. Utter nonsense. And the true breakeven is top 80-100 depending on how clever players are. No one outside of top 100 is truly breaking even with any return on their parents investment.

KDB said...

In a recent Parenting Aces interview, Stephen Armitaj mentioned that Europe has 7x the number of Futures as the United States. As the ITF creates these transition tournaments and reduces the number of $25K Futures, I hope the resulting tournaments reflect a fairer distribution that will give the Americans in the 750 a fighting chance to succeed in the pros. I also read some of the changes the ITF has planned for juniors; I believe the ITF wants to reduce the number of occasional players-those who only play a couple of ITFs a year. While most of the occasional players lose in the qualifiers, there are some occasional players who mostly play USTA who dont live in Fl or CA but who enjoy playing local or regional ITFs, are willing to grind through the qualifiers, and then win several rounds in the main draw even against seeds. I hope as ITF makes changes to its junior program or the creation of the transition tournaments, it will consider adding US junior grade 4 ITFs in the summer-none currently except grass to allow juniors attending high school to participate-maybe some July hard courts for juniors who dont want to play clay in Delray. In the analysis of the ITF junior tournaments, the ITF organization notes that it is losing 17-18 y/o's to Future Qualis when those players could still play junior ITFs. Currently there are a lot more Futures in the Us than junior ITFs-it is a shorter drive for those players to play Futures. Whatever changes are made, I hope there will be opportunities left outside of California and Florida; too many tennis families either feel like they have to move to those states, send their players to board at academies there, send their players to 3rd world countries to earn easy points, or have their players quit because it is too expensive to get tournament experience needed to be ready to play internationals in college. For Europeans they probably have multiple junior or Future ITF choices a 6 hour or less train ride away. Now that the ITF president is an American, let's hope that these reduced options will at least offer appropriately representative opportunities for players on all continents.

Really? said...

Well another post by a person who is angry and jealous of those able and willing to pursue tennis to whatever level they reach. Just because some can’t afford to pursue their dreams –whether lacking in skill, confidence, or financial means –is no reason to be so bitter toward those that do.

Get real... said...

There are no easy tournaments in the pros, Jon. From the US to the remote corners of the earth - players are not chasing points. There are players ranked 200-300 in 15K events all around the world. That chasing points line is what parents of players that don't/can't win have said for years. It's old and tired.

tennisforlife said...

The one thing that seems clear from these changes is that the fantasy of college tennis as a pathway to pro tennis will finally be put to rest. Given the proposed size of the qualifying draws and the priority given to ITF juniors it will be virtually impossible for a college player to get into a transition event without a WC.

Resource for info.... said...

tennisforlife, can you elaborate on the information you mentioned, regardng juniors getting priority and the qualifying draw sizes? Where did you see that information? Very interested as it really does make a difference for those graduating in 2019. May be a better choice to do the internship this summer or next, rather than considering the pro path at all for some players.

tennisforlife said...

Resource for info... As I read it the entry process for the new transition tour, which is the gateway to the 25k "real pro" events, will be as follows; 1)ATP points(i.e. those players with points ranked below the magic 750 numver.),2) ITF ranking(I understand the top ITF events will carry transition points) and 3) the current top 500 national ranking. Main draw sizes will be 32 and qualifying draws 24. It's hard to imagine with draw sizes that small that any spots not taken up by those with ATP points will not be filled by ITF ranked juniors. Outside of a WC there will simply be no access to the system once a player loses his or her ITF ranking. The system seems designed to smooth the pathway for highly ranked ITF players to transition to the pro's. For good or for bad a current college player can acquire a nationl ranking(or just show up for qualies) and pretty much be guaranteed a spot in a 128 quali draw and grind his way to a point. That pathway now seems gone. I just don't see how a 2nd or 3rd year college player who has lost his ITF junior eligibility has any access to the system. Once the train leave the station it won't be stopping. I think it presents juniors who have pro ambitions, but may want a few years of college to mature and grow, a hobson's choice at the end of their junior career. It also dramatically increases the value of ITF junior circuit reltive to playing USTA National events.

Maybe some of this will change but college tennis seems the big loser to me which is surprising given Haggerty is President - Having said that he presided over the disastrous Tim Russell changes to junior comp in 2013. It was clear at that time that he hadn't taken the time to understand the implications - maybe the same is true here..

Brian de Viliers said...

Once again pen pushers making decisions that are going to be disastrous for the tennis industry. Do they ever think of the consequences further down the chain. I thought we needed more people playing the sport, not less.