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Monday, December 28, 2020

ITF Extends Junior Reserved Status Through 2021; Teens Have Huge ATP Challenger Impact in 2020

The hope that the ITF Junior Circuit might rebound in the first quarter of 2021 has been dashed, with the postponement of the Australian Open Junior Championships and the first Grade 1 of the year, in the Czech Republic. The Grade 1 in Costa Rica, which is usually a popular destination for American juniors, never made an appearance on the ITF calendar for 2021, so the tournament most likely to draw Americans next month is the new Grade A in Barranquilla Colombia, beginning January 25th.

Due to the reduced number of ITF junior events in 2020, the ITF has made an adjustment to its junior reserved status rules. Normally, those in the Top 100 of the year-end ITF world junior rankings can use that status for entry into men's and women's World Tennis Tour events only until they turn 19. This article from the ITF website provides the information that turning 19 in 2021 will not close that window:

Additionally, to protect the ITF player pathway and in recognition of the lack of opportunities for junior players in 2020, all year-end top-100 juniors born in 2002 will be able to use their year-end junior ranking beyond their 19th birthday for acceptance into Men’s and Women’s WTT events for the entire calendar year in 2021.

The ITF also has loosened its rules, for men's, women's and junior events, regarding draw sizes and entry dates, and, for junior events, grade and ranking points could change:

Flexibility will be permitted regarding draw sizes in the qualifying and main draw of ITF World Tennis Tour tournaments, while application deadlines and entry and withdrawal dates will also remain altered across the circuits to accommodate the continuing uncertainty.  

Tournaments on the ITF Seniors and Juniors Tours will be allocated their normal grade and ranking points, but will be subject to an analysis of accessibility by the ITF. Where there are significant national border restrictions, the status of the tournament may be changed. 

The article with this information is titled "The Year in Numbers", so I wasn't expecting that kind of news to be included, but I did learn that 18-year-old Qinwen Zheng of China, who will be featured in my upcoming December Aces column, won the most ITF titles of any player in 2020, with all four of hers coming since the restart.

screen shot via ATP website

The ATP's Josh Meiseles has put together a fascinating look at the 2020 Challenger circuit, which saw teenagers Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, Lorenzo Musetti of Italy, Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic and Brandon Nakashima(Virginia) collect titles during the pandemic-shortened year. Alcaraz won three titles and 20 of the 24 matches he played on the Challenger circuit this year. 

Collegians Steve Johnson(USC), JJ Wolf(Ohio State) and Arthur Rinderknech(Texas A&M) of France, each won two titles during the year. 

The United States had the most titles of any country on the Circuit, with 11, followed by Spain's 7. Sebastian Korda, who won his first Challenger title last month, had one of the biggest improvement in ATP rankings, going from 249 to 118 during the course of the year.

Meiseles also provided 20 Storylines for 2020 on the ATP Challenger circuit, with more on all the players mentioned above, as well as a look at a significant all-American match at the Dallas Challenger last February under his Three Unforgettable Matches headline.