By David Fox
May 13, 2020
Disclaimer: The following piece was written by a guest writer. This writer‘s views do not necessarily align with ours at MyTennisHQ.
Most active and former players would agree that tennis at the professional level is a ruthless sport. From the 48 week season to the lack of prize money distribution throughout the levels of the tour, one of the most challenging aspects of pro tennis is climbing through the rankings. It takes a combination of consistently high levels of performance, persistent travel, substantial periods of good health and a little luck thrown in the mix.
The current cut for Challenger Level tournaments on the men’s side is somewhere between #400-500 ATP (give or take depending on the week). In order to be within that ranking bracket you have to accumulate approximately 60-70 ATP points within the 12 month rolling calendar period. In order to reach that, you theoretically must win 6 $15k events (10 points for each), or at least 3 $25k events (20 points for each.) This is of course an extremely challenging feat that many players do not achieve, especially given all of the difficult aspects that the structure of the pro tour brings on.
For those of you unfamiliar with the ITF/ATP tour and the progressions through levels, the ITF Pro circuit is considered the entry level to professional tennis and is made up of two tiers: $15k and $25k. Most players begin their career at this level and spend a majority of their early career building their ranking by earning the limited ATP points that are on offer at this tier. By winning a $15k a player will bag themselves 10 ATP points, whereas a $25k will offer 20 Points for the winner. Once you have attained a high enough ranking, you can make the step into challengers where there are 80-125 points up for grabs to the winner.
On paper it would seem like these events are vastly different in terms of the level or quality of player. However due to the finite number of challengers on the schedule many “challenger” players end up having to drop back into the futures level in order to maintain their point total and maintain match experience. This is why it becomes extremely difficult for players to break into the challenger tour. They are essentially competing with challenger players at the futures level; in my past 3 futures tournaments I have lost to players ranked from #250 – 450 ATP. Considering the level is similar between these two rungs of the tour, I feel that it is important players are rewarded with an opportunity to compete at a higher level whenever they have earned it.
So what can be done to reward successful players and offer more opportunities to move up to the challenger level? My proposal is that all $15k and $25k winners and finalists earn themselves a Wild Card into an upcoming challenger event.
Those wildcards would be awarded by the following guidelines:
- $25k Winner: Challenger 90 Main Draw WC
- $25k Runner-up: Challenger 80 Main Draw WC
- $15k Winner: Challenger 80 Main Draw WC
- $15k Runner-up: Challenger 80 Qualifying WC
Guidelines for WildCard Use:
- The wildcard can be used within 90 days (3 months) of the completion of the $15k or $25k from which they earned it from.
- The Challenger Tournament is selected by the player (at the respective level earned) and they must notify the Tournament Director before the entry deadline with written confirmation from ITF Officials.
As we all know, tennis is a difficult sport to sustain extremely high levels for prolonged periods of time. That does not mean that players aren’t capable of a particular level on any given day. Therefore, rewarding players with direct access to the challenger level through their futures level success gives more opportunities to players to break through quicker. This will allow them to play for more prize money and more ATP points. It also gives players an opportunity to take a bite at the proverbial apple while riding the momentum and confidence that earned them their futures success, before either luck or health diminish or general levels of performance start to fluctuate.
If players happen to have one time success at a futures event and can’t sustain it during their challenger level opportunity, then they can return to futures with the experience and continue the grind. However, if the player happens to continue their success during their challenger experience, then one, their rise through the rankings will be somewhat streamlined and two, their opportunity to play challenger level is thus justified.
A potential addition to this system would be to remove direct acceptance into Challenger 80 Qualifying and have Challenger 80 Qualifying made up of 4 $15k Runner Up’s. This would alleviate the concern futures players may have about travelling to a challenger qualifying event without knowing if they will be accepted, while it would provide incentive for successful futures level players.
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David Fox graduated from the University of Denver in 2016. After a 2 year full-time coaching stint, he began playing professionally in 2019. He is currently ranked #989 in singles and #620 in doubles in the ATP rankings. You can find David on instagram @fantasticmrfox94.