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 HaggertyThose 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.