The ITF Board of Directors has approved a major restructuring of professional tennis at its entry level. The reform programme of changes will include a radical reduction in the number of truly professional players and the creation of a new global ITF Transition Tour in 2019 that will provide opportunities for the next generation of talented players to enter the professional pathway.
The reform programme is in response to a three-year ITF Player Pathway review of professional and junior tennis that included an analysis of player and event data from 2001-13, and a survey of more than 50,000 stakeholders. The review established that there are too many players trying to compete on the professional circuit; too few players are breaking even; and the age of these players is increasing. There are currently around 14,000 players competing in professional tennis events, almost half of whom do not earn any prize money.
The review also identified that it is taking longer for players to reach the top levels of the sport, and that many talented junior players experience considerable difficulty in transitioning to professional tennis.
In order to address these issues, the Board has approved the implementation in 2019 of a new ITF Transition Tour, featuring a new category of interim tournament at entry-level that will better aid the transition from junior to professional tennis and ensure a continued opportunity for players from any nation to join the player pathway. These tournaments will be held within a localised circuit structure that reduces costs and increases opportunity for players, and reduces staging costs for organisers.
Transition Tour tournaments will be created through the repositioning of the existing $15,000 (Level I) tournaments on the ITF Pro Circuit that will no longer be held as part of the Pro Circuit in 2019. Transition Tour tournaments will offer ITF Entry Points instead of ATP/WTA ranking points, with the two systems linked to ensure that the more successful players are able to use their ITF Entry Points to gain acceptance into ITF Pro Circuit tournaments.
The ITF’s proposed restructuring will radically reduce the number of professional players competing for ATP and WTA ranking points. The ITF’s extensive modelling work has led to a recommended professional player group of no more than 750 men and 750 women players. This new approach will introduce a clearer and more effective professional pathway and ensure that prize money levels at ITF Pro Circuit events are better targeted to ensure that more players can make a living from the professional game.
Players on the ITF Pro Circuit have already benefited from an extensive programme of prize money increases in 2016 and 2017 following the first part of the Player Pathway review, with total prize money increasing by around $1.5 million.
The ITF’s proposed Transition Tour will complement this new professional group, ensuring that all other players, especially the next generation of emerging talent, continue to access local playing opportunities that can lead to entry into the professional game.
The ITF will now work closely with its member nations, ATP and WTA on the implementation of the Transition Tour, including confirmation of the technical requirements, tournament schedule and new ranking point structure.
ITF President David Haggerty said: “The ITF’s Player Pathway study is the most comprehensive review of professional tennis ever undertaken and has highlighted the considerable challenges at the base of our game. Over 14,000 players competed at professional level last year which is simply too many. Radical changes are needed to address the issues of transition between the junior and professional game, playing affordability, and tournament cost.
“We have already taken an important step forward by increasing prize money levels at ITF Pro Circuit tournaments. 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. We believe that the introduction of a new entry level to the professional pathway will allow players to take the first steps towards becoming a future champion within a more targeted and affordable circuit structure. These changes will also ensure that players and their support team members can understand and measure their progress.”
The ITF Player Pathway review was undertaken to fully understand the tournament structure below Tour level. The review looked at improving the entry for players into professional tennis; increasing prize money and the ability for more players to make a living; raising event standards with a focus on integrity protection; and ensuring developing nations have the opportunity to produce world class players.