The ITF announced the details of a new “Transition Tour” for 2019 Thursday.
But that’s not the only major change that is in the works.
Tennis.Life has learned the details of what the ATP Tour is doing, in conjunction with the ITF. The overarching goal is to create a structurally sound transition for players from the juniors through to the top level of the pros.
(The WTA Tour has not released any information of its own, outlining how it will affect the female players).
The ATP is making major changes at the Challenger Tour level, after completing an 18-month review of the rankings. The goal is to increase the opportunities for players to progress at the lower levels. Also, they plan to upgrade services to players in the “true” professional ranks. The Tour also feels it will result in “improved integrity in the sport.”
(What that means, in English, is that they expect fewer players to spend their careers at the ITF level, subsisting on accepting bribes to throw and influence matches).
Targeted prize money at the upper levels
The Tour believes that the current system “encourages players to play down for points and upwards for money.” It says the new structure will reward playing up, and “reduce a stagnation in the rankings.”
The goal, from the ITF’s point of view, is to have a better link from the juniors to the pros. Another objective is to target the prize money so that more players can make a living from the game.
The ITF first announced the Transition Tour plans nearly a year ago, in March, 2017. It has taken this long to coordinate with the pro tours, it seems.
Here are the major changes at the Challenger level:
*The number of Challenger Tour events will be increased
*Challengers will have 24-player qualifying draws as of 2019. There will be only rounds of qualifying and six spots in the main draws.
*The “special exempt” spots will be eliminated. The qualifying at Challengers will take place on Mondays and Tuesday, not over the weekend as it currently stands.
*All Challengers will now offer hospitality (i.e. pay for accommodations) for both singles and doubles players.
The current ITF Futures events and the lowest-level ITF Women’s Pro Circuit tournaments (for the women) will become the “ITF Transition Tour”. And that tour will have its own ranking system.
As a result, the ATP and WTA Tour rankings should top out at 500-750 players. Currently, there are 1,976 players with ATP Tour rankings. More than 550 of them have just one or two points. And there are 1,275 women with WTA rankings.
Hundreds and hundreds of these players have never played at the WTA or ATP Tour levels. And, putting aside the dream, they likely never will.
The Challenger qualifying events will be the link between the “ITF Transition Tour” and the Challenger level. There will be a certain number of spots allocated in those 24-man draws for players based on their new ITF Entry Point ranking. (The exact number has not been finalized).
Points towards that ranking will be awarded at the ITF events and also in the Challenger qualifying rounds.
Guaranteed spots for women and juniors
On the women’s side, there will be five spots reserved in the main draw of $25,000 ITF Pro Circuit events for the five players with highest “ITF Entry Point” rankings.
On the juniors side, there will also be more opportunities on the Transition Tour. Five spots in the ITF main draws will be earmarked for juniors ranked in the ITF top 100.
The number of ATP points available at the $25,000 ITF level will be reduced. Instead, players will earn ITF Entry points, as well as some ATP Tour points in the later rounds. (The women will continue to earn WTA Tour rankings points in 2019) .
By 2020, the second year of the program, the plan is to make those $25,000 men’s events part of the “Transition Tour” tier, and offer ITF points only.
The overall theory behind this is that under the new system, men’s professional tennis will no longer begin at the ITF level. It will start on the Challenger Tour. And the conditions on that Tour will be upgraded to reflect that fact.
The women’s side is a little more complicated. While the WTA Tour does run some $125,000 tournaments, the ITF Pro Circuit runs its own events with prize money up to $100,000. Those are events that, with similar purses, fall under the ATP Challenger Tour umbrella on the men’s side.
During the 2018 season, players will have “shadow” ITF and ATP Tour rankings. Those will give them an idea of their ranking will look like in 2019 when the new system kicks in.
More local circuits
The new “ITF Transition Tour” will operate with a more localized structure. That saves the tournament organizers, and the players, money. It rather sounds like the old Satellite Series events of decades ago.
It already happens on an informal basis. There are areas of the world – Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Hammamet, Tunisia and Antalya, Turkey are just a few – where there are Futures events nearly every week.
However, the ITF press release also states that the requirement on the Men’s Futures tour to host three consecutive tournaments will no longer exist. So that seems contradictory to the stated intention to “localize” the structure.
No benefit to playing down
The way the rules currently stand, anyone outside the top 10 on the WTA Tour or the top 150 on the ATP Tour can play down at the very lowest ITF level. Those lower-level tournaments will no longer offer ATP or WTA Tour points. So it is expected to weed out higher-ranked players looking for points on the ITF circuit to get their ranking back up.
(Immediate question on that, for players who miss time with injuries or take a break of some kind. If a player doesn’t have the ranking to get into an ATP or WTA Tour event, or even a Challenger, they will find their path to return slowed down considerably. First, they would have to earn ITF Entry points only, even if their level was superior to those toiling at that level. They would play all those matches, but still not be able to make a dent in their ATP ranking. Then they would have to use those to get into Challenger qualifying. It sounds like a lengthened slog for viable players).
(Also – it would be easier to just restrict the ranking at which players can drop down – i.e., no one better than a top-300 ranking, for example. But perhaps there are legalities involved there as players could make a case for restraint of trade).
All these new ranking systems will merge and cooperate by the end of 2018.
End of 2018 for ranking conversions
Any ATP or WTA ranking points earned at $15,000 men’s events, the early rounds of the $25,000 events and in the Challenger qualifying draws will be converted into “ITF Entry points”. And with those points off the computers, those players’ ATP and WTA Tour rankings will drop right off.
And so, in 2019, it will all look a lot different.
Will it solve all the perceived current issues? Well, it looks like it will eliminate a lot of players who spend too much time in the Futures; it will be even more difficult to eke out any sort of a living there. So a lot more players will give up the dream.
It all sounds very logical on paper. We’ll see how it plays out in real life.