When you watch players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on television or just some advanced player at your local club, it seems fairly easy and effortless. You just hit a small yellow ball with a racket over a net until the other player can’t return it. As simple as it seems, it is definitely not. There is a lot of hard work, training, time and will power involved to truly be a tennis player and eventually maybe even a professional tennis player.
Technically, the only things you need to become a tennis player are a racket, a tennis ball, and a court. However, in order to become a professional player, you must learn the game, practice relentlessly, and earn ranking points by winning tournament matches.
Requirements For Being a Tennis Player
Taking tennis lessons at a young age is an important requirement in order to become a tennis player. While the specific age may vary, this is where young players will begin learning about the game and developing the fundamentals to play at a high-level.
As you start competing between the ages of 8 to 10, you will begin with club tournaments, and if you are doing well you will enter local tournaments, then regional tournaments, sectionals, and if you keep succeeding you will have a chance to play national tournaments.
In America, players participate in tennis events sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association (USTA). This organization is responsible for scheduling all U.S. tournaments and developing junior players. Getting to each sporting match, however, can require a lot of travel.
Step 1: Understand the Rules and the Game
To become a tennis player, you of course have to understand the rules of the game. You need to know the dimensions of the court and where to hit the ball when serving. You need to know how to count the points, how many it takes to win a game, how many games it takes to win a set, and at the end how many sets it takes to win a match.
If you are interested in learning how the rules work, or if you can just use a refresher, we have an extremely detailed guide that you can check right here (Tennis Rules – Everything You Need To Know).
Furthermore, you need to learn the specific shots. The forehand, the backhand, the volley, a drop shot, and of course the serve. The earlier you start learning these aspects of the game the better your chances are at succeeding and the only way to get better is with practice.
Step 2: Practice, Practice, Practice
Professional tennis players will have spent hundreds of thousands if not millions of hours on the court practicing their shots. They of course don’t do it alone but almost always have a coach helping them. It’s important to continuously improve and the best way to do that is by obtaining a private coach. This offers the chance to receive individual instructions on how to develop your game to start competing.
The other option would be to enrol in a tennis academy. While not required to become a professional tennis player, enrolling in a tennis academy can be beneficial. Tennis academies offer year-round training opportunities and present players with a chance to compete with other aspiring professionals on a regular basis. In addition to providing tennis training, some of these academies provide education for students that might prepare them for college or a pro-athlete career.
Step 3: Play Local and National Tournaments
The USTA offers junior tournaments for younger players, which allows them to compete against their peers and assess their skills. Junior tournaments are held all over the country, and players as young as ten can begin playing in these events. Playing well in these tournaments may also secure a junior ranking from the USTA.
If you end up ranked in the top 10 or 20 in your country by the time you are 14 or 15, you will start playing international ITF junior tournaments, first level 5 and 4 events, and if you continue succeeding, you will continue with level 3’s, then level 2’s and finally level 1’s and Grand Slams.
Between the ages of 15 and 17, you will also start playing some entry-level pro tournaments, and during the next few years, if you prosper, you will progressively play more pro tournaments and less junior tournament.
Step 4: Going Pro: Play ATP or WTA Tournaments
Once players reach a certain level of play or turn 19 years old, they are eligible to play on the USTA’s professional circuit. A tennis player’s success in tournaments will determine how much money they make and how high they are ranked. Players must win or play at a very high-level at the junior and amateur level to be eligible for professional tournaments. Ideally in your last year in juniors the scale will tip towards pro events, especially for girls. If you finish top 20 in the world in juniors you have a decent chance of making a living in the pro tour, probably less than 50/50 but still worth a try.
You will spend the next 3 or 4 years on the tour and if everything goes well you will cut your ranking in half every year and eventually arrive at the top 100. At first, you mainly try your luck on the Challenger Tour where you can earn ATP points to improve your ranking so you become eligible to compete in the qualification round of smaller ATP/WTA Tournaments. Another option is that you get wildcards to qualification rounds of tournaments. For example, if you are a promising American you most likely will get wild cards at US tournaments.
Unlike other professions where you can plan to become a doctor or a lawyer you cannot really decide to become a tennis professional. The only thing you can decide is to embark in the process. Only a few top players have the privilege of earning a living competing, and the results throughout the developmental process will dictate who can join the club.
The great advantage of tennis is that you are getting constant feedback along the way. Your results at every step will dictate your next step during the whole process. There are no shortcuts and very rarely alternative pathways.