How ITF Junior Tournaments Work

Just when I thought I had the USTA tournament thing finally figured out, my kid decided he wanted to try playing some ITF events.  And, after reading the current ITF Junior Regulations and searching all over the Web for information and coming up pretty much empty-handed, I started asking questions of those with way more knowledge than I have so I could understand how the ITF process works.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far about ITF events held in the US:

  • You must be between the ages of 13-18 to play in an ITF Junior tournament. You may enter a tournament starting at age 12 years 11 months, however.  Unlike USTA which uses the player’s birth month to determine age and eligibility, the ITF uses the calendar year.  For the 2012 ITF season, for example, players must be born between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1999.
  • Before you can sign up for an ITF Junior Tournament, you have to get an iPin number.  Plan ahead as it can take a day or two for you to get the actual number.  All requests are authorized within 24 hours Monday-Friday.  You cannot enter a tournament without this number.
  • Most ITF Junior events have a qualifying draw that plays the Saturday and Sunday before the Main Draw starts on Monday.  Usually, a player has to win 3 rounds in Qualies to get into the Main Draw, but that can vary according to draw size.  The Main Draw is typically scheduled to play Monday through Sunday.
  • There are Singles and Doubles events in all tournaments.  You can sign up for the Doubles once you arrive.  Even if you don’t get through the Qualies, there may still be an opening for you to play Doubles – you’ll need to check with the tournament officials.
  • It is very important that players and parents check the tournament Fact Sheet for information regarding sign-in dates, locations, and times.  There is a do-or-die sign in deadline for the Qualies and the Main Draw, typically 6pm the Friday before matches start for Qualies and 6pm the Sunday before matches start for the Main.  In order to sign in, you must bring a passport or other photo ID.  You must also know your iPin number and USTA number.  A parent or coach has to sign the Medical Release, just like in USTA tournaments.  Without any one piece of the aforementioned information, you could be denied the opportunity to check-in and play!
  • For those who don’t get into the Main Draw or Qualifying Draw, there are on-site alternates.  It’s important to note that even alternates must have an iPin number, so if your child is even thinking about playing one of these events, you might as well go ahead and apply now.  Check the specific tournament’s website for details on how to alert the tournament officials that you want to be considered as an alternate in case of an opening.
  • After check-in on Friday night, the Qualifying Draws are created and posted online along with first match times.  Often, it is after 10pm before the draws and times are available.  Also, the draws and times may be posted on the ITF Junior website OR the tournament site OR the USTA site – you may have to do some digging before you find your first match time.  Be persistent!  And, be sure you know when you play BEFORE you go to sleep on Friday night – it could be 8am!
  • Only those who are in the Main Draw are given a tournament t-shirt.  Those who don’t make it through the Qualies may be able to purchase a shirt if they want.  I know, this isn’t all that important to some of you, but for others, the t-shirt is key!
  • All singles matches play out a full third set – no 10-point tiebreakers here!  And, just so you know, there is NO COACHING and NO BREAK between the 2nd and 3rd set.  Doubles play two tie-break sets and a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a 3rd set with no-ad scoring.  In the case of bad weather, alternative scoring options may be used in accordance with the ITF 2012 Rules of Tennis (see page 22).
  • If your child has dual citizenship, please refer to Page 36 of the Rules for information as to how to determine which passport your child should use in these events.
  • The time an entry is submitted is not significant; it does not matter if a player is first or last to enter a tournament.  Waco ITF Referee, Ken McCain, told me, “A common comment I receive is that ‘my child has a higher ranking than some players placed higher on the Acceptance List.’  The Federations can send a ranking list to the ITF, usually once a Quarter, to determine the Acceptance List Order (non ITF-ranked players).  One tournament may be using an old list and the following week an updated list is used.  This does occur and this is my best explanation.”  Read Section 45 (starting on page 13) of the rules for details on how selection into the tournaments works.  I’ve read it, and I’m still a bit confused, so if you understand the process, please enlighten the rest of us in the Comments box below!
  • There is a “freeze deadline” which occurs at 14:00 GMT on the Wednesday preceding the tournament week.  At this point, iPIN closes, and it is no longer possible to withdraw online. Instead, withdrawals must be made using the official withdrawal form and sent to the ITF and Referee before the close of sign-in. The published acceptance lists will not update with any withdrawals. The reason for this is that this is the moment the tournament information is sent to the Referee to prepare for the tournament. The acceptance list is sent to the Referee, who now manages the withdrawals. Any questions about the acceptance list from this point on should be directed to the Referee.  Any player who withdraws from a tournament Main Draw or Qualifying Draw after the Freeze Deadline without using the official withdrawal form, sent to the ITF and ITF Tournament Referee, will be subject to a No Show penalty.
  • Wild cards are decided by the host nation.  If players wish to apply for a wildcard they should get in touch with the host National Association (i.e. USTA) and/or Tournament Director.  ITF does not give out wild cards.  Numbers of wild cards available is based on the size of the draw.  For example, a 64 Main Draw will have 8 Wild Cards available.  For US tournaments, a player can apply for a wild card at www.usta.com/itftournaments.  The application deadline is typically right after the regular entry deadline – check the individual tournament’s website for details.  Refer to page 20 of the Junior Circuit Regulations for more information.
  • Lucky losers almost always come from those losing in the final round of qualifying.  If more Lucky Losers are required for substitutions, those players who have lost in the previous qualifying rounds are considered.  Lucky Losers must sign the Lucky Loser list that the Referee will open. It closes 30 minutes before play begins.  Colette Lewis told me that she watched all this take place last year at the US Open juniors. If you don’t have an ITF junior ranking, you go to the bottom of the list, in a similar number assignment with any others without an ITF ranking.  There can be zero lucky losers or as many as seven or eight, which happens at some sparsely attended events in less desirable locations. I think at this week’s Atlanta ITF four boys made it in as lucky losers. Late withdrawals or no shows are the most frequent reason for lucky losers getting in, but an injury or illness can also lead to a last-minute vacated spot.  See page 23 of the rules for more information.

A big thank-you to Colette Lewis of ZooTennis.com for her willingness to share her vast knowledge with me and, by extension, you!  If you have any questions or need more clarification on any point above, I urge you to contact the ITF directly at:

International Tennis Federation, Bank Lane, Roehampton, London, SW15 5XZ
ph: +44 20 8878 6464 | fax: +44 20 8392 4735
email: juniors@itftennis.com   www.itftennis.com/juniors

For the complete rules of Junior ITF play as well as the ranking points table, click here.

NOTE (added December 2, 2012):

APPENDIX G: ITF JUNIOR CIRCUIT AGE ELIGIBILITY RULE
1. ITF Junior Age Eligibility Chart

Age/Number of tournaments permitted

18/Unrestricted
17/Unrestricted
16/25
15/16 (unless player achieves a top 20 ITF Junior Ranking in which case an additional 4 tournaments permitted)
14/14 (unless player achieves a top 20 ITF Junior Ranking in which case an additional 4 tournaments permitted)
13/10 (unless player achieves a top 50 ITF Junior Ranking in which case an additional 4 tournaments permitted)
11-12/0
NOTES
1. The number of tournaments permitted is counted between the date of a player’s birthday and the day before their next birthday, not between 1st January and 31st December.
2. Participation in an ITF Junior Circuit tournament includes singles and/or doubles and/or qualifying.
3. Minors under the age of thirteen (13) shall not be eligible for entry. For the
purposes of this Rule, the player’s age as of the first day of the tournament Main Draw shall be used.
4. The number of tournaments permitted by the ITF Junior Age Eligibility Rule is in addition to the number of professional tournaments permitted by the Age
Eligibility Rule (please refer to ITF Professional Circuit Regulations, and WTA
Regulations for details on the Age Eligibility Rule.)

The Alternate List Redux

I wrote in an earlier post about life on the tournament alternate list.  Now, let’s talk about a different kind of alternate . . . the on-site alternate.

When you’re on the alternate list for a tournament, you have the option of showing up to the tournament site on the first morning of play and asking to step in if anyone in the draw doesn’t show up for his/her match.  Each tournament has slightly different rules for how they work the on-site alternate thing, but, basically, if you show up, and one of the main draw competitors doesn’t, then you get to play.

Typically, on-site alternates are put into the draw in the order they appear on the alternate list.  So, getting to the site before the other alternates doesn’t help your cause – just like everything else related to USTA tourneys, it’s all based on rankings.

We’ve tried the on-site alternate route a couple of times.  The first time was at a Bullfrog (Designated) tournament about 30 minutes from our house when my son was in the 12Us.  My son wound up getting to play in the tournament when one of the seeded players failed to show up for his first-round match.  It was a great experience for him, even though he lost his first match in both the main draw and the backdraw – he got to be on the court with players who were ahead of him, developmentally, and see what it was going to take to reach the next level.

The second time was also at a Bullfrog, this time a little further away from home in Macon.  At the coach’s urging, my husband got up early and drove the 90 or so miles so my son could try to get into the draw.  He didn’t get in, but it made for some good father-son bonding time on the highway!

The third time was for a big national tournament, the Easter Bowl.  Since we were going to be in LA anyway for a family event, and since it was over his spring break, my son asked if he could sign up for the tourney just for the heck of it.  He was put on the alternate list, so we again decided to try the on-site alternate route.   We warmed up early that morning then showed up to the main site where we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  After a couple of hours – this tournament did a staggered start, so we had to wait until the very last match was called – the tournament official told my son he did not get into the draw and thanked us for coming.  We hung around a while and watched some great tennis in a beautiful setting.  Then, since we weren’t scheduled to fly home for a few days, we decided to hang out in the California Desert, soak up the sun, play a little golf (son, not me!), and relax.  Not a bad way to spend Spring Break!

The latest time was this past weekend, again for a national tournament that was being held locally.  My son was pretty far down the alternate list, but since many of the guys ahead of him were from out of state, we decided to try the on-site thing one more time.  Thunderstorms wreaked havoc with Day One of the tourney – we basically spent the entire day in front of the computer waiting for updates from the tourney director, only to find out at 6:30pm that all matches were canceled for the day.  Day Two started out pretty much the same way.  We arrived at the courts as directed, only to be told that it was too wet to play and to report to a different site 2 hours later at which point Day Two was also canceled.  Day Three – today – was a school day, and, luckily, play wasn’t scheduled to begin until 12:30pm (the time my son finishes his modified school day).  However, Day Three also brought the rain and a final tournament cancellation.

Was the weekend a complete waste of time, waiting for the weather to clear so the kids could play?  In my opinion, no.  My son got to hang out with the other players at the site, and he got to hit on the not-quite-dry-enough-to-play courts with some of the boys in the draw.  But, I’m guessing if you ask the family that drove 12 hours from Michigan or the family that traveled from Maine, you might get a completely different answer!