I intended to write a similar blog to this originally, but having noticed a steady stream of conplaints from players on social media I’m going to go right back to the beginning of this all, February the 1st 2018, in order to try and explain the ITF Transition Tour and to get a better understanding of how this mess came about.
In this blog I’ll break down the original announcement before expanding on other issues in further blogs. To do it all in one go would take forever and create a blog too big that people won’t read (somehow assuming anyone reads this anyway!).
The link to the original announcement can be found here: https://www.itftennis.com/news/278962.aspx
Let’s crack on:
“The ITF today announced details of the new ITF transition tour that will be launched in 2019 as part of a major restructuring of professional tennis. The tour will provide a more effective pathway linking the ITF Junior Circuit and the senior professional game, and ensure that prize money at professional level tournaments is better targeted to enable more players to make a living.”
Sounds good. More players making a better living. Juniors with better and clearer pathways. Who can complain about those consequences? Rejoice everyone!
I’ll deal with this statement later on, suffice to say it’s failing in its mission.
“The creation of the transition tour is based on ITF research that shows that while over 14,000 players compete each year in professional tournaments, only around 350 men and 250 women break even financially without consideration of coaching costs. A large number of junior players are competing on the professional circuit but the transition to the Top 100 is taking longer.”
Firstly, there are too many tennis players who do not make an adequate living at this game. That’s absolutely true. But what this paragraph does is effectively absolve the ITF of any blame on this issue. For example, prize money at the Australian Open has gone up 30% in the last 5 years, whilst if you account for inflation, prize money at the ITF tournaments at the current $15k and $25k level (I’ll concentrate on the men’s side as I know it better) have gone down in real terms.
Whilst I do not expect players to be making fortunes at the lowest levels, there is simple no excuse for a player to barely be breaking even unless he wins the tournament. This is an old age problem the ITF continually manage to avoid addressing. Ultimately, in order for a player to start out he has to almost accept he will lose thousands before he has any hope of making any money. How is this a good system?
The next issue is discussing how long it takes a junior to reach the top 100. As I mentioned in a previous blog, being a top junior is no guarantee of success. When you consider that 29.6% of all junior boys Major winners (between 1998 and 2013) failed to crack the top 100, then you realise it’s a bloody tough sport. But more importantly in this context you have to question what’s causing the issue? Is it really the lack of an “effective pathway”? Two examples below suggest otherwise.
Let’s be clear, any kid who wins a junior Major is going to be one that interests agencies and sponsors and he will get whatever help a national federation can offer. Two recent examples of this (and without wishing to denigrate their careers thus far) include an Australia and a Canadian, with whom both will have had a huge amount of support. They both turn 25 in the next week and neither has cracked the top 100.
Given it’s fair to accept both have had good support and didn’t make it, surely you then need to accept some players just aren’t good enough?
So does having a “clearer pathway” as the ITF put it mean these same two players would have made the top 100? No, I don’t personally think so. If you’re ultimately not good enough even if you get through the ITF level you’ll then have to get through the challenger tour, which is no mean feat.
The conclusion I am attempting to reach is to show that the ITF are trying to blame a slowdown in top juniors reaching the top 100 on the previous system we had. But what evidence is there that this new system is the way forward? There is almost an automatic assumption coming from the ITF that a top 100 junior should have a good career as a pro, but the facts and the numbers prove otherwise.
The discussion should be about how many players are lost and disappear from the game due to costs and at what level this occurs. Numbers, stats, facts and evidence should be provided so people can discuss the issue at length and so that people with real tennis experience can put forth ideas and visions for the sport moving forward. Not a bunch of suits behind closed doors devising a system and then providing no clear explanation of how it will work.
The new system in place as it stands is currently inconviencing players and making it increasingly more difficult for them to simply just play (I’ll expand on this another tine). This cannot be right.
I’ve written a lot more than I expected to and have a lot more of the original ITF statement to cover so I will leave it there for now. I’m passionate about this sport and I’ll continue to write about this issue over the coming days and weeks. Thanks if you bothered to read this far.