Another Thanksgiving, Another Tournament

Print

This year as always, many families with junior tennis players will be spending their Thanksgiving holiday at a tournament. For the very top tier of players, that may mean the Eddie Herr down in Florida. For others, it may mean one of the new National Selection (Level 2, 64-draw) tourneys or maybe one of the new Regional Segments (Level 4, 32-draw). For my family, it’s the National Selection (L2) in Montgomery, Alabama.

Will your family be traveling Thanksgiving weekend? Which tournament are you heading to? How did you decide which one to enter? With so many tournament options this year, I would love to hear from you (via the Comments) regarding your thought process.

Since the 2015 calendar still isn’t fully online yet (there are a few 2015 events listed in TennisLink now), it will be interesting to see what next year holds for our junior players. By sharing our experiences here, maybe we can all help each other devise the best schedules for the upcoming year.

Let’s See How This Is Playing Out

About a year ago, I published an article titled Quota Insanity written by well-known journalist/broadcaster Antonio Mora. In that piece, Antonio predicted that the quota-only system of entry into national tournaments would lead to meaningless events with meaningless outcomes because the draws would leave out many of the country’s top-ranked players. Turns out, Antonio is a pretty good prognosticator. Just take a look at what’s happening in next weekend’s Closed Regional tournaments around the US and how these level 4 selections are predictive of what’s going to happen for the summer super nationals. How can you call these credible national events when a kid ranked 1736 is getting in at the expense of a kid ranked in the 200’s?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case those numbers aren’t enough for you, here’s a breakdown of all 4 Closed Regionals showing the rankings of the last players gaining direct entry alongside the rankings of the first alternates in each age group (12s weren’t included since many of the draws didn’t fill). This information came from looking at the selection process tab on TennisLink for each age group. Those kids accepted off their sectional list have an [Age Group] SEL next to their names, and alternates have a yellow dot next to theirs. In some cases it appears sections had aging up allowances and so some very low ranked kids got in from the age group below, but I ignored those kids and only counted ones who gained acceptance from their natural age group.

Last AcceptedFirst Alternates
Boys 141575234
1536297
1485351
1415376
Boys 161874329
1370365
1306423
1248433
Boys 181990384
1941406
1732430
1678440
Girls 141510368
1404382
1379405
1304491
Girls 161609381
1449389
1432391
1412438
Girls 181706358
1552360
1530397
1450440

These are now National tournaments with no credibility whatsoever. We are going to see the same thing this summer for our national championship events. Maybe not quite this extreme, but the lists are going to look ridiculous and the kids left out are going to have a fit, and rightly so – this will have a huge impact on the Tennis Recruiting rankings as well as those from USTA.

Let me add that my son decided NOT to enter our Closed Regional because, looking at his current ranking, he didn’t think he had a chance of getting into the draw. Turns out he definitely would have gotten in and had the opportunity to gain some significant ranking points. How are parents and coaches supposed to guide these young players appropriately when the selections seem so random?

I have reached out to Lew Brewer and Andrea Norman at USTA asking for a comment but haven’t received anything yet. Once I do hear something, I’ll update this post so please check back later today. I’m hoping they can shed some light for us.

UPDATE 10:07pm 2/11/14 I received the following from Lew Brewer, USTA Director of Junior Competition: “It’s a bit too soon to make any sort of judgment about these events.  The Junior Competition Committee will be doing a full analysis of these events and will be discussing this at the USTA Annual Meeting in the next few weeks.” I still haven’t heard back from Andrea Norman.

 

 

 

Where Do My Tournament Fees Actually Go?

flying-dollar-bills

A question was recently posted on Twitter that caught my attention: Approximately what percentage of the entry fee goes to the host site in USTA junior tournaments?  It’s a question I’ve been pondering for quite some time, especially since all this talk started about cutting draws at tournaments and the impact that would have on Tournament Directors and local communities.  So, I contacted my local and sectional USTA junior tennis staff members as well as some tournament directors who run local, sectional, and national events and asked them to answer a few questions for me.  Here’s what I found out . . .

1. For sanctioned tournaments, how much does the tournament director pay to USTA for sanctioning fees?  Do those same fees apply to non-sanctioned events?

These fees vary by section and by district.  In order to host a Georgia-sanctioned tournament, there is a $35.00 sanctioning fee per event plus a head tax of $.50 per player.  For National Level 1 events, the fee is $100 per age group.  For National Level 2 and Level 3 events, the fee is $100 per tournament.  For Southern Sectional events, the fee is $35 (plus Active fees).

For a non-sanctioned tournament in Georgia, the fee is $100 per age group plus the head tax which varies based on the level of tournament.

2.  Who pays for officials?  Is it the Tournament Director?  If so, is there a set daily fee?

The tournament pays for everything, though at some of the bigger events, USTA may contribute toward the costs of running the tournament.  And USTA mandates the required number of officials based on the level of the tournament.  Every community is different with regard to umpire fees.  Some do a flat rate, some a per hour rate, some a mixture of both.   The rates vary as well, anywhere from $12/hour on up.  Tournaments are also responsible for hotel rooms and travel expenses, and sometimes meals for the officials, again depending on locale.  Nothing is standard. There are no volunteer officials.  They are all paid.  It is important to note that the Tournament Director may not also be the Tournament Referee.

3.  Who pays for tournament gifts (t-shirts, towels, water bottles, etc)?

The tournament pays for everything.

4.  Who pays for trophies or other awards?

Typically, the tournament pays for everything.  However, at certain larger events, like our own Southern Closed, USTA may provide the awards and player gifts.

5.  Who pays for court fees?  Balls?

The tournament pays for everything.  Court costs are dependent on location.  What’s interesting to note here is that, while the cost of balls has gone up in recent years, sanctioning fees and tournament entry fees have basically stayed stagnant, cutting into the profit margin.

6.  Does the tournament director have a say over how many days an event can last?  Does he/she have a say over draw size?  Does he/she have a say over whether the tourney includes both singles and doubles?

Most events fall into categories or levels and those levels or categories determine pretty much everything from draw size to length of play.

State, Sectional, and National events have specific regulations for specific events, so it’s pretty much cookie-cutter.  All events of the same designations (e.g. a National Open, or Southern Bullfrog, or GA Level 3) should all be the same, unless the individual sanctioning authority makes an exception.

In Georgia, Level 4 events have some choices since there has to be room for “regular” tournaments.  It’s up to the tournament to determine which age group events they want to hold, if they have doubles or not, the court surface, whether or not to provide certain amenities, etc.

The sanction period is still determined by USTA Georgia.  The length of the tournament, the number of events, and the courts available are all considerations in setting the draw size.   The USTA Georgia Sanction and Schedule Committee has to approve the details, including draw size.

In recent years, USTA Georgia has been disincentivizing tournament directors from offering doubles by charging an additional head tax on each doubles team plus mandating that trophies are provided for first and second place finishers in each age group, thereby increasing expenses and reducing net profit for the tournament directors.  The additional tournament fee of $3.00 for doubles goes directly to TennisLink as opposed to the tournament itself.

7.  Is there an additional fee for having a tourney listed on TennisLink?

No.  That’s part of being a USTA sanctioned event.  (I’m not sure about Unsanctioned events, but I  assume the only reason to have one listed is to take advantage of the entry system.)

8.  Does the $3.00 TennisLink fee go to USTA or TennisLink or the tourney director or someone else?

TennisLink is administered by Active.com under contract with USTA.  The fee is retained by Active.com for their services and is therefore non-refundable.

————

USTA sets minimum and maximum tournament fees that can be charged.  It also specifies how many trophies are to be awarded in each age group.  In order to host a tournament, the tournament director must be part of a USTA member club or organization.

If there’s a day or two of bad weather, that can drastically cut into the tournament’s profit.  Officials are expected to stay on duty during rain delays, increasing the overall expense in that column of the balance sheet.  If bad weather persists, sometimes the director decides to move the matches indoors, increasing court costs for the event, too.

Some tournament directors rely on volunteers to staff the tournament desk and to perform other duties over the course of the event.  Others, though, prefer to hire paid staff, again increasing expenses and decreasing their profitability.

The key, it seems, to running a profitable tournament is finding some sort of sponsor to help offset the costs outlined above.  We recently went to a Southern Level 3 tournament in South Carolina sponsored by Dunlop.  Not only were the players treated to a really nice long-sleeved tournament t-shirt, but they were also each given a reel (not just a packet!) of string.  In addition, the tournament provided complimentary lunch for the players at each tournament site both days of the event.

I was hoping to be able to give you a hard-numbers breakdown, but there are so many variables in terms of related expenses that it’s really impossible to do that.  The bottom line is that very little money goes to USTA from junior tournaments.  The vast majority of the revenue goes directly into the tournament’s bank account with all related expenses coming out of that same account.  While some of the larger national events turn a sizable profit for the tournament director, most local and sectional tournaments wind up being a very small source of income for those running them.  Some directors have figured out ways to reduce costs, such as ordering t-shirts in bulk for the entire year and doing the same with trophies.  While a great cost-cutting measure, having the same shirt or same trophy at every tournament can eliminate the unique personality that many tournaments (like the old Bowls) try to develop.  Ultimately, though, a tournament’s success is gauged NOT by its profit or loss but rather by the satisfaction of the players and their families and their willingness to return year after year.

A National Schedule & Ranking System That Makes Sense

ahamomentThere have been several comments on this blog asking what parents, players, and coaches want to see in terms of a junior competition structure – USTA has asked all of us to email them at LetUsKnow@usta.com to share our thoughts.  Some people who are way smarter than I am have come up with one proposal that just may work.  This proposal addresses the travel and cost issue, the “earned advancement” issue, the missed school issue, and the rankings issue, among other things.  Please take some time to read through it and share your thoughts in the Comments below.

The key points to this proposal are as follows:

  1. No changes to the existing Level 1s.
  2. Every section (except Hawaii and Caribbean) hosts a Level 2 and at least one Level 3 during the year.
  3. Every region(N/S/E/W) hosts four Level 2s and at least four Level 3s each year.
  4. Each section and region has reserved spots in the tournaments they host for players who do not qualify through the NSL, meaning you don’t need to be running around chasing points to get into a national event.
  5. A combined STAR/PPR ranking structure, if it is designed properly, will incentivize kids to play in the toughest event they can handle as close to home as possible.
  6. Tournaments coincide with holiday weekends where possible.
  7. National Open dates remain unchanged.
  8. Level 3 events occur in Jan/Mar/May/June/Aug/Sep/Oct.
  9. Draws sizes for Level 1s would remain the same – 192 for the two summer nationals and 128 for Easter Bowl and Winters.
  10. Draw sizes for Level 2 national opens would revert to 64 with a possible one day 32 qualifier.
  11. Draw sizes for Level 3s would be demand driven – Copper Bowl might support a 128 draw while Columbus Indoor a 32 draw. A qualifying draw would be at the discretion of the TD.

There are three parts to this proposal – Philosophy, Tournament Structure, and Rankings – and they are all inter-related.

Philosophy

  1. FUN FUN FUN – Ask any kid who played Copper Bowl, Quicksilver, the Southern or Texas Open, or St. Louis Gateway, and they will all tell you the same thing: they loved those events!  The USTA should have a FUN officer at every national event – if the kids are not smiling, kill it.  The first question on any tournament evaluation form should be, “How much fun did your kid have?”
  2. K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple Stupid – Any competitive structure needs to be simple, easy to understand, and easy to navigate. The 2014 changes fail on a lot of levels but they really fail on this metric. If an 11 year old can’t understand it, it’s too complicated.
  3. RANKINGS – ACCURATE rankings are the backbone of competitive tennis, and tournament selection must be driven by a single unified and accurate rankings structure. The beauty of linking rankings to tournament selection is that it motivates across a wide range of players. Kids ranked 400 are trying to get to 300 to get into a higher level event. The kid ranked 20 is trying to get into the top 10, and the kid ranked 2 is trying to get to 1. Any competitive structure should embrace this as a powerful motivator to keep kids in the game.
  4. OPPORTUNITY and CHOICE– The USTA should be in the business of providing opportunity and choice – as much opportunity and as much choice as the market can bear.  This is the holy grail of cost.  More opportunity and more choice will result in lower cost.  There just can’t be much argument over this. If the cost of more choice and opportunity is a few kids chasing points, who cares?

Tournament Structure

In terms of tournament structure, we would look to combine the best of the old Optimum Schedule (which had a lot of fun events and a lot of opportunity) with the best of the ITF system (which has an easy-to-understand pathway combined with a selection system that favors proximity to event). Sectional events need to flow seamlessly into the national schedule, and the section must commit to a unified competitive structure leading to national events. With that in mind we propose the following:

Five levels of national events as follows:

  • Level 5 – These would be the existing National Level 5 sectional events, but sections must commit to open entry – everyone who enters must be accommodated either through draw size or through a qualifier. Each section would be allowed to hold between four and six of these events.
  • Level 4 – These would be the existing National Level 4 events with a higher points total, but they would be selective entry events based on sectional ranking. There would be between two and four of these events per section.
  • Level 3 Open – These events would be the backbone of the national tournament structure. Each section would be expected to host at least one of these events a year but no more than three. Local communities and/or the USTA would be expected to provide sponsorship particularly in parts of the country with smaller pools of players (e.g. Northern section). Selection to these tournaments (AND THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT) would be as follows in this order:
    • For a 64 draw event:
      • 40 players from the current national standing/rankings list (NSL)
      • 6 players from the top 100 of the NSL of the age group below
      • 10 players from the sectional standing list of the host section, not selected through the NSL
      • 8 qualifiers from a one-day 32 draw event involving two pro sets (same selection process)
  • Level 3 Closed – Each sectional championship would be designated as a Level 3 event.
  • Level 2 – Like the old National Opens – four times a year with one event in the North, South, East, and West. Tournament selection here would follow the same template as for the Level 3s, but ten players from the host region (not section) not originally chosen would be accepted into the main draw.
  • Level 1 – We would tweak the order of the selection process slightly so that the first X players came from the NSL and sectional quota spots were filled afterwards.

Rankings
STAR and PPR both have their advantages – PPR encourages play and STAR is accurate – we would use them both.

Ranking points would be a combination of how far you got in a tournament (PPR) and the strength of the people you beat. The beauty of this is that it solves one of the big problems with the current ranking system:  the points advantage that the small sections currently have.  We would add an SOS factor (strength of schedule factor) to simulate that important aspect of the prior STAR system.  The idea is that a particular tournament or draw within a tournament (based on depth or strength of field) would have a factor/multiplier applied to it (ranging from .75 to 1.25 for instance) – so a relatively weak L2 tournament would be discounted in point value by some factor (e.g., PPR value x .80) – so instead of a potential 1st place value of 320 as provided by PPR, the maximum point value for this tournament/draw would be 256, and so on for every round completed.  Similarly, you may assign more value to a particularly “stacked” field (e.g., average ranking of 46 for all competitors entered) – so the max value might be 320 x 1.25 (or 400).  This would level the playing field so to speak – similar to how an RPI ranking metric works (used to rank NCAA basketball teams for selection into the NCAA tournament in March).  The SOS Factor would be determined based on the Average Ranking level of those competing in the event (using a sliding scale).  For example, average ranking in the draw of 500 or higher = .75, 400 – 499 = .80, 300 – 399 = .85, 200-299 = .90, 100-199 = 1.00 (or point value = PPR value table), 75-99 = 1.10, 50-74 = 1.20, < 50 = 1.25.  (The actual translation function for this sliding scale could easily be worked out based on the Average Ranking of the Draw in question.)

The basic thought is that this would entail simply applying an objective SOS factor to the existing PPR award values to account for the disparity in depth/strength of the draws selected around the country – and would produce a ranking method that is more equitable and more predictive (while supporting the underlying goal of encouraging more play by junior players to maintain their national ranking level).  We would also continue to award “bonus points” for significant wins as is the current practice.

What are the advantages of all this?

  1. Takes the best parts of the old system and gives back opportunity and choice and gives us back the tournaments people loved.
  2. The selection system means that you don’t have to travel far if you don’t want to in order to get a strong national ranking.
  3. The combination of PPR and STAR will give greater weight to the strong sectional events, and doing well in your section (if you choose to only play sectionally) will get you into all levels of national events.
  4. Solves a lot of the issues that the new system is trying to address in terms of cost but doesn’t kill opportunity.
  5. Encourages players to seek out the strongest tournaments that they are, or can be, competitive in as opposed to purely chasing points.

Click here to see the spreadsheet showing this proposed tournament calendar overlaid onto comparisons between 2010, 2012, and 2014.

A tremendous thank you to Geoff Grant, Steve Belsito, and many others for their input on this proposal.  Please remember: it is just that, a proposal.  It is a work in progress.  If you have information you’d like to add or specific questions, please put them in the Comments below, and I will be sure Geoff  and Steve and the others see them.  I feel very good about where this proposal is heading and am hoping that the USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee will take it under consideration instead of moving forward with the existing 2014 plan.  The devil is in the details – but this is a template we believe could be workable and supported by a broad tennis constituency.

New National Seeding Rules

A couple of days ago, I saw a post on my Facebook newsfeed from USTA’s Junior Competition folks announcing seeding changes for National tournaments.  Apparently, I’m one of only a few people who saw the post or knew anything about it.  When I posted the link to the changes on the ParentingAces Facebook page, which also feeds to my Twitter, I got very little feedback from anyone . . . that is, until the seedings came out for this weekend’s Regional Segment tournaments!

Apparently, the biggest change to the seeding criteria has to do with using a separate Singles Seeding List – which does not include any doubles ranking points – to seed the singles draws.  For the doubles draws, there is now a separate National Individual Doubles Seeding List.

The only problem I see so far is that there are no lists by those names currently on TennisLink, so what did the Tournament Director’s use for this weekend’s events?

Thanks to Antonio Mora and a few TD’s, here’s a quick explanation of what the new seeding rules actually mean:

1)      The usual “combined” standings will determine who gets into a tournament.  In other words, doubles will matter for that.  That’s a good thing, in my opinion.

2)      A new “seeding” list for singles (although the USTA has not followed its own rules and it’s called a “standings” list on Tennislink) will determine who gets seeded in singles.  Doubles points will NOT count for this.

3)      A new “seeding” list for doubles (again, the USTA is currently not calling it that on Tennislink) will determine the doubles seeds.  Singles points will be irrelevant for this.

4)      I believe it will be up to the individual sections to decide whether they want to follow suit.

5)      The language that gives the USTA power to alter seeding already existed in some form.

6)      I still don’t understand some of the discrepancies in the points some kids have when you compare the three current lists (doubles, singles and combined).

Even though doubles will continue to count for selection purposes (i.e. who gets into the tournament), Antonio expressed his concern that this move de-emphasizes the importance of doubles, which flies in the face of stated USTA goals.

One TD expressed the following: “The biggest problem with this scenario is not that the seeding change was made, but that it was not communicated to the tournaments.  When a substantial procedural change occurs, it is best that all involved be informed.   While informing the player may be easier said than done, certainly notifying the directors should have been an early order of business, not an afterthought.”  He goes on to say, “I don’t see that this seeding procedure will discourage doubles play because selection to each tournament will still be done using the ‘combined’ standings and not the ‘singles seeding’ list.  Being selected for a tournament is certainly more important than being a singles seed, since you can’t be seeded if you aren’t selected.”

Honestly, the biggest concern I have over this latest rule change is the lack of communication behind it.  The only way I knew about it was because I happened to be logged into Facebook when it came across my newsfeed (by the way, the USTA JrComp Facebook page has fewer than 150 “Likes”).  Given the recent outcry by the tennis community as a whole over the behind-closed-doors methods used by USTA to create the 2014 Junior Comp schedule, you would think USTA would’ve been sensitive to the fact that a heads-up over the seeding rules changes might be important.  I am still at a loss to understand HOW or WHY USTA isn’t more communicative and open and forthcoming with its members, especially with all the simple electronic methods at its disposal.  I keep asking the question and hope, one day soon, to be able to report the answer.

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.)

Who’s Really #1?

USTA rankings vs. Tennis Recruiting star ratings vs. Universal Tennis levels . . . is anyone else confused here?  I don’t know about the rest of you, but this obsessed Tennis Momma spends an inordinate amount of time trying to understand what the different ratings and rankings actually mean and how my son can best use the information to improve as a player.

A quick overview of some of the different ranking/rating systems out there . . .

USTA currently uses the Points Per Round (PPR) system which awards ranking points based on the level of tournament and which round the player reaches in the tournament.  A player’s top 6 singles tournament results and top 3 doubles tournament results for the previous 12 months are included in his/her ranking.  There is a National PPR chart, but each USTA Section also has its own PPR chart based on how its tournament levels are set up.  Please note that it doesn’t matter if a player loses his/her first round main draw match or whether that player wins several rounds in the main draw – all that matters is where the player ends up in the draw at the end of the tournament.  So, in a 64-draw, a player who loses in the first round of the main but gets to the semifinals of the backdraw will earn more ranking points than a player who wins three rounds in the main then loses his/her first backdraw match.  Head-to-head wins/losses are not considered in the PPR system.  Quality of wins is considered only when a lower-ranked player has a win over a player in the top 100, though this can also vary by Section.

The Tennis Recruiting Network (TRN) uses the Star Rating system which awards stars based on a player’s ranking within his/her high school graduating class.  The Star Ratings are updated twice a year – once in the Fall near the beginning of the school year and once in the Spring in mid-March.  TRN does consider head-to-head match-ups in its rankings, so many coaches, players, and parents consider these rankings to be more accurate and reliable than the PPR system.  (See my blog post on TRN for more details.)  As one fellow tennis parent commented, unlike USTA’s system, “TRN rankings aren’t influenced at all by where you go to play a tournament and which #900 ranked player in the nation you happened to knock off in the back draw for your only win of the event (to secure those prized PPR points).”

Universal Tennis features 16 levels of tennis and provides tennis players worldwide a common rating system to determine their level of play. The 16 levels – ranging from 1 for beginners to 16 for the top professional players – are based on actual match results (the last 30 matches within the last 12 months) without regard to age or gender using the Competitive Threshold (i.e. how close were the matches?) to determine accurate ratings.  This system – developed by Harvard Head Coach David Fish and former Old Dominion players Dave Howell (who will be my radio show guest on December 3rd) and Alex Cancado – is relatively new on the tennis scene and is meant to be used in conjunction with the other rating/ranking systems.  Thankfully, it, too, is becoming more recognized as a reliable resource for parents, players, and coaches.

Unfortunately, all sanctioned USTA junior tournaments currently use only the PPR rankings – the least reliable of the three, in my opinion – to determine which players get into the events and who is seeded in those events.  One complaint that I hear repeatedly is that PPR rankings can be “bought” by players who have the means to travel to tournaments with weaker draws in order to win more matches and, as a result, wind up with better rankings, allowing them entry into the higher-level events.  I am loathe to admit that my son and I have taken that approach on more than one occasion – driving to the other side of our very large section where the competition runs a little less deep – in order to boost his USTA ranking to the point where he could get into events closer to home without going through the alternate list.  And, sadly (but fortunately, I guess), it worked, but is it honestly in the best developmental interest of a junior player to take this tack?

Of course, the answer is no, but it’s oftentimes a necessary step under the current PPR ranking system in order for a player who is aging up or is a late bloomer to get into the tournaments where he/she has competitive matches.  One parent commented on a previous blog post, “How do you reasonably explain to a 12 year child (or any child, for that matter) that a child he/she has beaten easily (possibly numerous times) is ranked above him/her [and, therefore, getting into tournaments when your player is not]?  The only reasonable explanation is that he plays more tournaments. In other words, his parents spend more money.”  It may not necessarily be that the child is playing more tournaments but that he/she is traveling all over to tournaments with weaker fields to get those match wins and coveted ranking points.

Another parent shared, “It would be great to see at least a few tournaments each year use that [TRN] ranking system to select and seed fields. If the USTA were to switch to TR[N] as their primary ranking system, I think that would solve many of the problems they’ve been trying to address with the proposed changes to national tournament structures, etc. (i.e., players/parents trying to buy PPR points/rankings by traveling to all the big national events).”  I agree wholeheartedly!  At the very least, USTA could use other ranking or rating systems in conjunction with PPR for a more accurate overall picture, especially when creating acceptance lists for the larger national tournaments.

We’re now seeing some creative tournament directors putting on events – like the Holabird-Adidas All-In Junior Tennis Challenge – where PPR ranking isn’t the sole criteria for entry or seeding.  Hopefully, our junior players will have more opportunities outside of USTA to develop and test their tennis skills.  ITA, ITF, and other organizations offer several options.  In the meantime, though, we have to work with what we’ve got and either (1) learn to play the system effectively and/or (2) be creative ourselves and help our kids find opportunities outside the system to become better players.

I would love to hear from you about how your junior player is balancing the challenge of getting into the tournaments he/she wants (needs?) to play while at the same time continuing to develop his/her game.  Please share your Comments below.