I am at Bangkok airport today waiting to take an early flight to Taipei and I just saw the announcement about the ITF World Tennis Tour made yesterday by the ITF. It is the height of the clay court season and the time of the tennis year that we witness some extreme spin on the red clay courts of Europe. But this ITF announcement suggesting that, together with the ATP and WTA, they had somehow saved entry level professional tennis is the level of spin generation that even Rafa Nadal would be proud of!
Let me explain. For the past two years, the ITF Director of professional tennis, Kris Dent, has been quoted as saying that what was in place before for entry level professional tennis was “not fit for purpose”. This view has been reinforced by the ITF President, Dave Haggerty. The tennis world was told over and over again that the old system needed to be radically changed to improve the pathway, reduce player costs, increase the number of players breaking even, reduce organisation costs and to reduce integrity issues related to gambling.
The announcement today shows that after three years of research, questionnaires, free phone ins, huge amounts of statistics generated, countless committee meetings and huge sums of the ITF nations’ money spent, the ITF has now returned to pretty much what was there in 2016 when they started this work:
- A global circuit with ATP/WTA points at all levels (one professional ranking).
- 32 player main draw
- The same prizemoney as in 2016
- The same overall costs for the players with increased entry fees for main draw players
- No more players breaking even
- Same costs for the Organisers
- Same number of bet on matches
Yes it is…..BACK TO THE FUTURE!
I do recognise that there are some positive changes compared to the old system:
- Three spots in the main draw are available for top 100 junior ITF ranked players but only until they turn 19 which could be only a few months for some players whose 19th birthday is in the early part of the following year.
- The very costly rebranding which I have to admit looks better than before.
However there are also some big negatives to be considered:
- Significantly less points are on offer at the 25K events than there were in 2016.
- Slightly Less points are on offer at the 15 K events than there were in 2016.
- Smaller qualifying draws than in 2016 are in place which means that the pathway is more difficult especially for players coming from less developed tennis regions and nations.
In addition, although this is not the ITF’s fault, in the men’s game there is still the bottleneck created by the small qualifying draws in ATP challengers which make it very difficult for players with small budgets to travel to events not knowing if they will be able to play or not.
I am happy that the ITF is now considering introducing some events with $5,000 for players who cannot get into the existing WTT system. I highlighted, a few weeks ago, the problems of the Malaysian Davis Cup team that have nowhere to play in the leadup to Davis Cup. But would it not have been good to have these events in place before launching the new tour? Did the ITF executives not have sufficient knowledge to know that this might happen and that it was not good for the sport just to leave so many top national players with nowhere to play? Why did they not listen to the warnings over the past 18 months coming from experienced coaches on the junior and the pro tour, from top academies and from major national federations like the Czech and German Tennis Federations (and Tennis Europe) who warned that what they were putting in place with the new transition tour would not work?
Somebody at the ITF has to take responsibility for this failure which has impacted extremely negatively on so many young tennis players and which has badly damaged the reputation of the ITF, an organisation that I am proud to have worked for and which I know does so much good for tennis on a global basis.
Don’t get me wrong. The announcements are to be welcomed and are a victory for common sense and for all of the players and coaches that signed the petition and campaigned for changes. They are the real heroes in not accepting these changes without a fight. I particularly want to commend Dirk Hordorff, the DTB Vice president, who pushed hard and gathered the support of some top pro players, in support of changes to a system that obviously was not working. The changes do improve the current situation created by the ITF but to me it simply puts a sticking plaster on a festering wound. To give the impression in the press release that the ITF President and the executives that approved the changes have in some way “saved the day” is, as I said before, extreme spin and not credible.
I repeat what I said a few weeks ago. If I am elected ITF President in September, I will initiate a complete review of entry level professional tennis involving experts from the ITF nations who are closer to what is really happening out there on the junior and professional tours. The objective will be to actually achieve the objectives originally set, especially to put in place an Improved pathway with more players breaking even. I believe that the bigger picture solution is a global rating system which includes verified results from many competitive pathways (including US college tennis, national high level events, European national prize money events, Bundesligue etc.). How this can be used effectively is something I can outline in more detail at another time but for anyone interested, I wrote extensively about this in 2017 in articles that appear on this www.davemileytennis.com website.
I am boarding my flight as I post this. I have visited nine countries in the past 12 days and the ITF World tennis Tour and the related problems has been something raised by the Federation Presidents in all of these nations.
As the saying goes……It’s hard to hit a moving target…..but I’m very much looking forward to being back in London on Saturday night and sleeping in my own bed.