How to get an ATP point – Part 1

How to get an ATP point – Part 1

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.

Entering Tournaments

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.

Be prepared

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.

Running Technique

Running Technique

For many of us energetic folk, it might seem strange that there is such a thing as running technique. Many of my patients are heavily into their running, and some happen to be quite advanced. By this I mean not only are they fast runners, or have recorded fast competition times, but they also demonstrate good knowledge and understanding of running technique.

Some people are active from a young age, and develop a running style naturally throughout their childhood. This may not resemble a style like that of Carl Lewis, but they can at least pull off a somewhat co-ordinated running style. Not everyone gravitates to an active lifestyle however, and it’s easy to tell whom these people are when you watch a person run for an extended period of time.

Most of my patients know about my love for sports but have often heard me say, “I don’t run unless I’m chasing a ball.” This is of course, a strong reference to my love for tennis in particular, but also other sports like cricket and golf. Running on it’s own has never appealed to me greatly, except for perhaps sprinting. I have always loved watching the 100m dash in the Olympics, but who doesn’t?

Recently, I have been hearing about the achievements some of my patients have made in the various half and full marathons held around Australia, not to mention triathlons and other more recreational events like Tough Mudder, Raw Challenge and Warrior Dash. Despite my aversion to running, I decided to set myself a small challenge – a 5km run. Not a particularly impressive challenge but I was interested to see how I stack up against my patient base. Also, I thought it was a good exercise in bringing me closer to understanding the different forces and strains running places on the body.

Before I tell you how I went, let’s cover some basics of running technique. The following tips come from Melinda Gainsford-Taylor, well known retired Australian athlete. Whilst Melinda specialised in sprint events, the tips she gives below are relevant to all forms of running and would be most suitable for recreational runners. More advanced runners might benefit further from seeking advice from specialised running coaches.

So how did I go you ask?


What I learnt

If you haven’t run for a while, you’ll be sore afterwards. Obvious right? I was still a little surprised by this though as I do a lot of running around the tennis court on a weekly basis and thought I could handle a simple 5km run. My little experience reaffirmed that your body needs to be conditioned for various forms of exercises.

I might be fit for running on a tennis court, but road running is different. The two forms are very different. Tennis involves quick bursts of running, rarely more than four or five steps in one direction. The steps are usually more powerful, and can involve scrambling and sliding motions. Running is more rhythmical and premeditated, you know exactly where you’re going with less likelihood that there’ll be any sudden unguarded movements. This means however that road running lends itself more to repetitive strain type injuries.

Common running injuries

With an activity like running, there’s always the possibility of a freak fall or accident that could result in an infinite number of injuries. Below are some of the more common sites where runners experience pain.

Shin splints, calf pain and Achilles tears

Without going into any detail about the above injuries, they are all essentially problems to do with the lower leg. The impact this part of your body experiences as a result of propelling your body through space at higher speeds, is huge. The repetitive nature of running determines you will at some point experience pain or discomfort in the lower leg. Pain will be influenced by the amount running you do, how much rest you take in between runs, the biomechanical status of your feet in particular, and the strength of the muscles surrounding your hip joints.

Knee pain

Pain in the knee is influenced mostly by three general structures – the cartilaginous joint buffer known as the meniscus, the hip complex or the foot. Wear and tear through the meniscus from the constant pounding of running is inevitable and may at some point become painful. When pain from meniscal injury becomes too great, the only option is arthroscopic surgery to remove the degenerated fragments. Knee pain can largely be avoided by ensuring adequate range of motion through the hip joints and more importantly by maintaining strong gluteal muscles. The glutes are your running engine and if strong enough, will keep the knee stable during this strenuous activity.

Finally, the foot is the first part of your body in contact with the ground. The ground reaction force generated when you touch down will transfer upwards through your leg. If the foot is in any way structurally compromised or has a preference to move in a way that transfers this force inefficiently, your knee will absorb some of this shock wave force. The knee is the next link in the chain and has to play the hand it’s dealt. A foot assessment is vital for any knee pain sufferer.

Low back pain

The lower back is no different to any other joint in the body when it comes to running. Depending on your running style and the state of the rest of your joints, your back will also experience the force of you pounding the road. The inherent suspension mechanism built into your spine should be able to cope with some of this force, but it varies from person to person and should be assessed in each individual case. The alignment of your spine will determine how well or not you cope with these forces travelling through your body.

Foot pain

Aside from blisters and ingrown toe nails, plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains and stress fractures are other problems that can occur here. Perhaps most importantly however, is for a runner to be familiar with their foot motion. There are 26 bones in the feet for a reason, to form joints that will accommodate the summation of forces sustained during walking and running so that the foot can transfer this force effectively to the rest of the lower limb.

There are three basic foot movements: pronation (rolling in), supination (rolling out) and neutral. During walking and running, the foot should follow an ideal movement pattern (neutral) but often our genes, poor habits or even injuries would have us do otherwise. These days there are many professionals who can observe your gait and assess your foot motion – chiropractors, podiatrists, physios and even some specialist foot store clerks. Knowing your specific foot motion means being able to select the best running shoe to prevent any of the above injuries.

Conclusion

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Don’t wait for an injury to develop, try to control as many variables as you can. Start as far back in the process as possible, first with your running technique and then with your equipment (running shoes, etc). Thereafter, get some advice from an expert who can advise you on the safest way to introduce your body to the potentially harsh arena of road running.

I’ll be waiting for you at the finish line.

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.