I am in Egypt attending the Davis Cup match, Egypt/Norway, and I received this press release regarding the new ITF Transition tour. I have to say that I feel like the boy in the story about the emperor’s clothing. Am I the only one who thinks that all is not right and that the emperor is wearing no clothes?
I worked at the ITF for 25 years and for 17 years oversaw development including the junior ITF circuit. I was also actively involved in the transition of many players from good juniors to top professionals. I am very surprised by some of the things outlined in the release and am struggling to understand why, in its current format, it is going to be better for tennis than what currently exists.
The biggest surprise for me was the announcement that from 2020 there will be no ATP points for the $25,000 men’s events. Am I missing something? Is this not quite shocking news? What will be the incentive for the ITF’s National Federations to pay around $50,000 in costs to host a $25,000 event when there are no ATP points? Surely it could have been possible to negotiate, as a minimum, some points for the finalists and semi-finalists at these events? Fair negotiations with the ATP and WTA would have been from the outset of discussions back in 2014 that ITF member nations will agree to increase the prize money for entry level events to help the players to earn more but in return the tours will have to give ATP and WTA points for the new ITF transition tour events. Not so much to ask for when you consider that the ITF nations are paying 30 million + in prize money for a tour that delivers the players to the ATP and WTA tours.
There are still many unanswered questions including how male players progress from the transition tour to the Challengers and the release says that this detail is still to be decided. The new tour starts in less than a year and this fundamental element is still is not decided? I don’t understand how something can be approved by the ITF Board when it’s not clear what is exactly being approved?
The WTA seem a little more supportive of the tour and at least the number of places in the higher level WTA events for players with ITF circuit points is agreed. But I am still not convinced that the new tour is going to make the progress of talent easier for either men or women moving out of juniors. I think for players, especially from less developed nations that do not host higher level men’s and women’s events, that this new tour will make it more difficult to progress. The players from the more developed nations will be able to use wild cards into their nationally hosted ATP and WTA events to help their best 18 to 20 year-olds to skip the transition tour.
I see that the officiating costs for the $15,000 events will be slightly less and that host nations will not have the requirement to hold three events in a row, but other than those changes, the new transition tour is pretty much what was there before. A global tour with $15,000 events but without ATP and WTA points. They say they will set up the transition circuit so that players will play more on a regional basis. Nice words in theory but I am not convinced as in practice because there will be a global ranking system, players will again be incentivised to travel around the world in search of the best place to get global ITF circuit points. How is that going to make it cheaper for the players and ensure they travel less?
I am curious. Did anybody consider creating regional transition tours? Perhaps three Regional Transition tours with one in Pan America, one in Euro/Africa and one in Asia Pacific with the best players at the end of each year getting their tour card to play higher level men’s and women’s events? This works well in golf and this structure attracts a lot of regional sponsors to each tour, creating the chance for more golfers to make a good living. I personally think it could work in tennis and that would ensure the players definitely travel less.
The ITF research showed that there were too many players playing professional tennis and the best did not make enough money. Well these two problems could have been solved very easily in my opinion (without costing extra money to the Federations) by making the men’s and women’s entry level events 16 draw instead of 32 draw. This change would have done a few positive things, including increasing the prize money for the best players at each event and by reducing the duration of the main draw to four days and accordingly the associated cost to run these events for the federations. Qualifying could have been up to 32 draw. Less players would have then have been able to play on the circuit and get points (50% less), solving the problem of too many professional players, but the best ones, the ones that deserved to be there, could have played six four-day Futures in a month (so in effect tripling their prize money). The obvious is often the greatest secret!
I have seen from the press release that the new circuit was developed on the back of a lot of impressive statistics and research but as Brian Tobin, the former President of the ITF, once warned me:
“Statistics are like a bikini. They show a lot but often hide the most important bits!”
What about the players playing in the USA college system? How does this tour help their transition? We know that the top 20 US collegiate players are the equivalent level to a top 350 to 400 player. How will they transition? And what about players playing in other prize money events in different parts of the world? I am excited to be working with UTR and I think that this is the future way to provide a fairer pathway and can help bring performance player rankings and ratings together. But that is something for another day’s article. For now I am not convinced that the ITF transition tour is the best way forward for World Tennis and, as articulated above, I think that there has to be a better way.
Having just returned from Melbourne where I spoke to many top coaches working with performance players, I could see others struggling to understand the new tour and the benefits, and I am curious to know what others working in player development think?
Please feel free to share my comments.