Scoring your first ATP point is seen by many young players as the ultimate achievement in tennis. This is certainly true for myself but sadly, I’m probably the wrong side of 30 to be attempting this feat. Of course, my passion for tennis got the better of me at the end of 2012 so I decided to give it a shot.
Having an ATP point places you on the world computer rankings chart and players often consider this achievement the transition between amateur and professional. If you’re up for the challenge of getting a world tennis ranking, know that it’s not just about being able to play good tennis. My brief experience playing these tournaments has shown me that there are many other facets of preparation that can make your quest for that golden point a little easier to achieve.
It can help to know a little about the structure of world tennis. Essentially, there are two governing bodies for world tennis, the Association of Tennis Professionals [ATP] and the International Tennis Federation [ITF]. The ATP world tour comprises the ATP World Tour Masters 1000, 500 series, 250 series, and the Challenger Tour. These tournaments are for players already well established on the world ranking charts, and usually lie within the top 250 players in the world. You might better recognise these tournaments as the ones you see televised on pay TV. It’s unlikely you’ll be making your debut here.
Assuming you’ve done the hard yards through the national ranking charts of your particular country, the ITF is the place to start. This organisation runs the entry level professional tournaments effectively serving as the pathway to the higher level tournaments on the ATP tour. The ITF provides some information for players starting out which you can visit here. Having played some of these tournaments however, I have learnt a few extra helpful points.
How to get accepted into a futures tournament
This is the first step you need to take, you’ll need what is called an IPIN membership. This is essentially a registration process with the ITF that allows you to enter tournaments and manage your playing schedule. Be warned that agreeing to their terms and conditions includes consent to random drug testing, and their fining system.
Whilst on tour, I met many players who had incurred fines for pulling out of tournaments after the withdrawal deadline. There is a US$50 fine for doing this and you will be unable to enter successive tournaments until the fine is paid. Of course, if you have a genuine injury, you can avoid paying this fine by issuing the ITF committee with a valid medical certificate.
More importantly, if you understand the process of being accepted into a futures tournament, you can increase your chances of getting an easy draw and also avoid incurring costly fines. Your IPIN membership, entitles you to enter up to six tournaments around the world that fall on the same dates. You can indicate your priority for each of these tournaments so that, for example, your first preference is to play a tournament in Turkey, your second preference Cambodia, third in Korea, etcetera.
The reason people might enter more than one tournament is to do with how individual entries are accepted into tournaments. At the time of entry, there are two pertinent pieces of information recorded that determine whether you will be accepted into the tournament you are entering. Your ATP or national ranking, and your nationality. Let’s assume you’re entering a weaker futures tournament. Those players with ATP rankings, will most likely get direct acceptance into the main draw. It is usually the case that there are enough entries with ATP rankings that all the places allocated for direct acceptance into the main draw are filled. The remaining entries will be allocated places in the qualifying rounds.
There will often be about five or six players in the qualifying rounds with ATP rankings. The remaining places will be those with national rankings. For Australian players, the ITF defines a player to have a national ranking only if that ranking lies within the top 500 players. In my case, at the time of entry, my ranking was in the low 400s.
To manage the mixed list of players with ATP and national rankings, plus those who may have entered without national rankings, an acceptance list is generated. Essentially, each entry is ranked in a giant list of players. Those with ATP rankings are at the top, in the middle are those with national rankings, and towards the bottom are those with no form of ranking. You can still enter a tournament even if you don’t have a national ranking, but as you’ll see, it’s unlikely you will be accepted.
What is unclear, is how the ITF positions players in the acceptance list with national rankings against players from other countries also with national rankings. With my ranking of 430, I was in front of a number of other people who had top 100 rankings in their countries.
I can only assume that the ITF takes into account, the general standard of play within each country (eg. Australian tennis would be of a generally higher standard than Botswana) and thereafter, the number of people from the same country who have entered the tournament. As I was the only Australian player when I travelled to Burundi and Rwanda, I was accepted into the qualifying rounds in both cases. I take this to mean that the ITF would prefer to run a tournament that represents players from as many countries as possible.
The point to be made here is that my Australian national ranking was not low enough to get me into an Australian futures event. As the standard of play is very high in Australia, I would have most likely needed a ranking inside the top 300. I stood a better chance of playing a futures tournament by travelling to another country. This is further reason for me assuming that I was accepted into the Burundi and Rwanda events because of my nationality before many other players with national rankings inside the top 100 of their own countries.
The other point is that if you don’t have a ranking at all, it’s possible you may not be of high enough standard to play in a futures tournament to start with. Perhaps the best place for you to start would be by playing tournaments where you can score points that contribute to a national ranking. This is a much healthier way of building confidence within your game and you will avoid the potential disappointment of being overpowered by a seasoned professional. Getting flogged overseas, particularly after making such a financial investment of getting there in the first place, could be very damaging to one’s desire for getting an ATP point.
Choose your tournament
There’s quite possibly an art to choosing which tournaments to play. If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to find a tournament that isn’t too strong. This in itself is difficult as the general standard of players who enter these tournaments is very high. There are a few factors however, which determine whether a particular tournament will be stronger or weaker than the next.
There are two types of futures events known colloquially as “tens” or “fifteens”. This is a reference to the prize money on offer, either $10,000 or $15,000. Naturally, where there is more money offered, there will be stronger players. Rather play in a “ten” for your first time around.
Consider the country where you will play the tournament. It is well known that Europe is home to the majority of the best tennis players in the world. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the futures tournaments played in countries like France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Serbia, Croatia, etcetera are extremely strong. There is a high population of tennis players in these parts of the world, and this breeds strong competition.
By comparison, the tournaments around central Africa and parts of Northern Africa are noticeably weaker. Ask yourself, in the history of tennis, how many top 100 players hail from Africa versus those from Europe? Whilst it may be more expensive travelling to remote areas such as Africa or even South East Asia, it can sometimes prove an easier route to the main draw of a futures tournament. It seems that choosing the right place to play your tournaments may sometimes involve choosing a country where the sport of tennis is less popular than other sports.
You might also consider checking the Challenger tournament schedule. In some cases throughout the year, a Challenger tournament may overlap a Futures tournament. In this instance, ATP ranked players will fill the Challenger draw leaving less to fill that of the Futures draw. If you’re lucky, the popularity of the Challenger tournament may see you getting excepted into a Futures tournament in a location where you may otherwise not have.
I learnt just how easy it is to incur fines if you don’t keep a close eye on the tournaments you have entered through your IPIN account. If you’ve taken advantage of the entry system and have entered the six maximum number of tournament entries allowed, be sure to withdraw from those you don’t intend on playing by the entry withdrawal deadline. This is important as, depending on your world or national ranking, there’s a chance you may receive direct entry into a tournament you’re not seriously considering of playing. Note that entries for a tournament only open three weeks prior to it’s commencement date.
Remember, people from all over the world are constantly entering and withdrawing tournaments for a multitude of reasons. They might be injured, have run out of money for travel, have chosen to travel with other players to a different country where the tournament is considered weaker or more prize money, etcetera. This means the acceptance lists are always changing. As soon as your entry falls into the qualifying or main draw rounds of one of the tournaments you have entered in your IPIN account, you will be expected to play that tournament unless you withdraw by the entry withdrawal deadline. If you don’t withdraw by the due date, you will be fined and unable to play another tournament until you have paid your fine.
When the first acceptance list came out for the Burundi futures event, I was about 70th in the “alternates” section. This meant that there had been enough entries by players around the world to fill the main and qualifying draws from the time the entries were opened. However, there are always non-genuine entries in every tournament. Many world ranked players enter tournaments just to see where they rank within the main or qualifying draws for that tournament. They will be doing this for other tournaments around the world on the same dates and often make the choice of which tournament they’re going to play based on how their rankings compare to the other entries. Of course, they often end up choosing a tournament where they’re seeded in the main draw as opposed to being seeded in the qualifying draw. Their decision is also very much determined by their financial position. Travelling is very expensive and they may not always choose to travel into the depths of Africa. The ATP points might be cheap, but the cost of travel is high.
By the time the entry withdrawal deadline had passed, I was well and truly in the qualifying round for Burundi. My entry had progressed steadily throughout the three week period and I was sitting happily right in the middle of the 32 player qualifying round. The lesson here is not to be discouraged by being placed on the “alternates” list, the “withdraws” list had over 200 names on it, many with ATP rankings.
Anybody who has read Brad Gilbert’s book, Winning Ugly, will know the importance of controlling the things you have control over. Your equipment should be well stocked. Take at least four rackets and plenty of string. I am a frequent string breaker so I took about one reel of string for a two week trip, it was plenty.
If you’re travelling to a less developed country, definitely take some balls to practice with. In Africa, balls are like hens teeth. Sometimes practice balls are available from the tournament director but this proved difficult at times. When I played in Rwanda, I befriended the head tennis coach at the tournament venue. He had a supply of new balls ” Wilson US Opens. He charged me US$15 for a three ball can, a little pricy I thought. Nonetheless I was happy to pay this price, I sensed he could use the money.
Whilst you can’t control the bounce of a Rwandan clay court, you can at least ensure you get into the country legally. By this I mean, make certain you have allowed yourself enough time to get a valid visa. Some visas are issued to you before you travel, others are issued on arrival and sometimes a visa may not even be required. If one is required on arrival, make sure you are aware how much it will cost and what currency they will accept. Many of the African countries are cash economies and use the US dollar for visa payments. Your US dollars will need to be newer rather than older too, they don’t accept old notes (ie. prior to around year 2000). I saw one guy at the airport in Burundi produce a US note that looked like it had been washed in a mud pit. God knows what happened to the poor guy, but I can tell you he didn’t get let in. If your notes are in good condition, you’ll be fine.
Part of the visa process for Rwanda required a letter of invitation. The tournament director was issuing these letters via email but for some reason I had difficulty getting this from him. I tried numerous times to contact him through email and via the phone but it took forever. Eventually it did come but by that stage it was too late. Fortunately, knowing how Africa works, I had been able to get another letter of invitation from a completely unrelated source. A friend of mine had done some business in the country before and had a contact who was able to send me a letter. This is a very valuable lesson I can teach you – you always need a back up plan in Africa.
Additionally, depending on where you’re headed, you may need a series of vaccines. You might choose to vaccinate yourself against things like Hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever, rabies, tetanus or malaria either out of safety, visa requirement s or both. When I travelled to Rwanda, it was a requirement that I present a yellow fever vaccination certificate on arrival. I was also required to show this certificate when I returned to Australia.
Playing the game
My 25 years experience in playing tennis has brought me to understand what I believe are the three most important facets to playing the game well. These are your physical fitness, tennis specific training, and probably most importantly, mind training.
Jump to the second part on How to get an ATP point – Part 2.