ITF World Tour Structure – The Problem of Two Ranking Systems

Today’s guest post is from Amir Bachar, a mathematician and a software developer from Israel. He is a long-time fan of tennis who has begun to help some Israeli players with their tournament scheduling.  The following article originally appeared on Amir’s blog here. Amir reached out to me after seeing my posts about the ITF World Tennis Tour on Facebook.

Since the launch of the new ITF World Tour, a lot of criticism has been raised, mainly about the fact that most players cannot enter any tournament, and that includes top college players, which are shown to be suited well for Pro Tennis.

What I would like to present here, is that even for players who can get into tournaments under the new system, it would be almost impossible to break through.
The main problem is on the men’s side, since there are no qualifying places to ATP Ranked players (seems counter-intuitive, but I’ll show why it is the case).

As you might know, the new system has two separate ranking systems – ITF World Tennis Rankings for ITF tournaments (15K$ and 25K$), and ATP Rankings for Challengers and above.
The problem is, that each tournament lasts for its relevant rankings for only 12 months.
That means that in a time-span of 12 months, a player should have a high enough ITF Rankings (about 20th) to be able to enter ATP challengers, and then also high enough ATP Rankings (about 320th) to be able to continue enter ATP Challengers using the ATP Rankings.

Let’s look at the top 20 ITF players and do the math:

  • These players played 16 ITF tournaments where they achieved 54 ITF Points in each one of them (on average). 
  • In order to be ranked 20th which would be enough in order to enter some challengers, 740 points are enough, which equals to five M25 wins!
  • On average it would take a top 20 ITF player 14 tournaments to achieve that. Let’s say a player plays 14 tournaments in 6 months time span (which is quite a lot of play given he had to go deep in some of them). Then, he has only 6 month until his ITF points starts to drop and he can no longer enter ATP Challengers using his ITF Rankings.
  • He needs about 90 ATP Points during the 6 months in order to be ranked 320th in the world. The player ranked 250th on the ATP achieve exactly double this amount of points in a full year (180 points), and remember some of the players around that ranking had also access to ATP and Grand Slam Qualifying, where they could get their points from.
  • So in order to be able to be ranked 320th in the world, our player who only have 6 months need to have a better performance than the 250th best player in the world, in a 12 months time where he had to play about 28 tournaments – that just to get into the cycle of playing ATP challengers! How crazy is that?

Now remember that if our player missed the needed points even by a little, he needs to almost start over on the ITF from scratch, since his ITF Points would start to drop*. The exception to that is of course getting a WC, but players that are not from established Tennis countries don’t have this luxury.

The solution might be to either go back to one unified ranking system, or to have a tour card for a full year, where a player can have access to ATP Challengers, as it is being done at professional Golf and Snooker.

* Unlike ATP Rankings which are exponential in nature, the ITF Rankings tend to be linear, since many players can win tournaments in a given week, so using the ITF Rankings for Challengers Qualifying means that once ITF Points start to drop, a player’s ITF Rankings drops dramatically. 

** Combining ITF tournaments and Challengers on the player’s schedule in order to have both rankings at the same time would actually the chances of becoming a regular ATP player but it does makes sense from a financial point of view of course.

3 Comments on “ITF World Tour Structure – The Problem of Two Ranking Systems”

  1. The world is changing and getting much more competitive for eyeballs. There is no money available in tennis for more than about 400-500 men and women players. The rest are college level or recreational players. Tennis will continue to face even more competition in the future. The new system makes a cauldron that forces stars to rise very quickly, much like all other sports. No more getting away with point chasing and pushing as juniors, now you have to develop shots, go for them, and push yourself to have a chance at the pros. Not willing to do that, aim for college or rec tennis.

    All the money in tennis is made by the biggest stars attracting attention. It is what it is. I keep reading about all the players who love tennis. Great, keep playing for the love of the game. The old system of players being able to play futures forever is gone and not coming back, The ITF saw the future, tons of competition for dollars. Tennis will only survive with new superstars, and those will come from pushing the young players. The trade off is missing out on the one in a 1000 older player who breaks through. Risk/reward says the vast majority of very top players move through the junior ranks quite fast. Look at the kids today…Cori Gauff, Whitney Oswuige, Amanda Anisimova….their abilities were obvious and they rose fast.

    I highly suggest all adults involved quite pining away for the past and advise these kids to get into a field where they can make money. They can play tennis for fun in their spare time. But to keep writing petitions and posting to facebook is worthless. The old system is never coming back, nor should it.

    1. The structure of proffesional Tennis allows only a really small number of players to make a living, that even in comparision to much less popular sports.
      You are right Karl that it is acceptable to have tiers, and that not everyone must be part of the pro tour, but no sport has a hard cutoff on the age the player can have a breakthrough. In Tennis it should be even easier to spot emerging talent at any age, since it is an individual sport.
      In addition, as I just demonstrated, the way moving up the ladder works is really bad, even for players that are inside the system.
      Even some players who were top 100 juniors can’t even play 15k$ qualifying now.
      For most players it took gradual improvemnt until they got to where they are now, and they probably wouldn’t have made it under the current system, both from financial reasons and from not playing higher level players.
      It is not 1 in 1000 players that world of Tennis would lose, more like 9 out of 10, and even the 1 in 10 that does make it won’t be as good, since the whole pyramid would be smaller.

  2. Some data of participation numbers:
    In 2014 about 9100 men played 1-10 tournaments, about 1040 played 11-20 and about 840 played 21 or more tournaments.
    In 2014 about 9960 women played 1-10 tournaments, about 730 played 11-20 and about 520 played 21 or more tournaments.

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