Last year, the ITF announced major changes to its ranking system. It also made several changes to how entry lists are determined for Challengers and Futures events. Some of those changes, though, are already causing anger and a desire for change.
The flaws of the new ITF reform, according to the ITF No.2’s father
The goal of the reform was to improve the financial situation of professional tennis players and it easier for juniors to make the transition to the senior tour. According to research done by the ITF, only around 600 players were able to make a living out of playing tennis. The changes limited the number of professionals in the ATP and WTA rankings by eliminating the possibility of gaining points in most Futures tournaments. Instead, the top players of the newly created ITF ranking get reserved places in the main draws or the qualifying of ATP Challenger Tour events. For further information on the reform, visit the ITF site.
Peter Heller’s Letter
Peter Heller Sr., the father of the ITF world No.2 (Heller was the first leader of the ranking) sent a letter to the ITF, making complaints about the introduction of the Transition Tour. His son made it all the way to ATP No.271 last season, a place which could allow him to play qualifying at Grand Slam events. After the ITF points were excluded, Heller Jr. dropped to a ranking of around six hundred, which doesn’t allow him to play ATP Challenger Tour events regularly. Despite being the second-best ranked player in the ITF ranking, the German is even struggling to get into 15K Transition Tour events.
Peter Heller Sr. claims (on Facebook) that in the new system, injury comebacks are pretty much impossible and some players are unable to compete in the ITF tournaments due to entry fees, whereas the reform was supposed to improve the financial status of semi-professional competitors. He also views the ITF World Tennis Tour as a way to stop illegal betting and cheating, and states that the only solution is for the ITF to stop selling scoring data from the lower-tier events–where due to lesser prize money, players are more susceptible to match-fixing. Heller Sr. calls upon the ITF to go back to the old system because in his view two different rankings just can’t work together.
A system with two different rankings can never produce better results. (…) Assumed you manage to climb to number 400 ATP within one year, which is not that bad. What to do now? Being number 400 ATP – it is very hard to compete in a Challenger regularly (last direct accepted this week over all Challengers 365) – you have to go back to ITF level and start at ZERO because meanwhile you have lost all your ITF points, try to climb in the ranking while losing your ATP points … – or quit tennis!
Playing college tennis has been an increasingly popular way to make a transition to the pro tour in the recent years. The success of stars like John Isner, Kevin Anderson, or Steve Johnson shows that it’s a perfectly viable way to become a tennis professional. Or at least it was–since the ITF reform makes it a lot tougher. It reduced the number of spots in the Futures tournaments qualifying draw, which was a common way for college players to get ATP points (winning a match in the main draw of such tournament gave you exactly one point prior to 2018). College players can’t play many ITF events due to commitments at their alma mater, which makes their ITF ranking lower, not allowing them to get into Futures events. For further information on this, check this New York Times article.
Complaints against the ITF World Tennis Tour
The changes created a huge backlash amongst players. A 22-year old Canadian tennis player Maria Patrascu started a petition and got over 11,000 signatures. The Executive Director of ITF Circuits, Jackie Nesbitt, responded, saying that if any changes to the system prove to be needed, they will be implemented quickly, but as of right now she sees not a single convincing argument in favour of the return.
‘For all the reasons we’ve set out explaining why we looked to do reforms in the first place, it would be not at all optimal to go back,’
A Facebook group called “CHANGE ITF RULES” already has almost 2,000 members and the number is growing rapidly. Some well-known names also decided to join the protest.
Some of the members of the 'CHANGE ITF RULES" Facebook page :-
Magnus Norman, Alijaz Bedene,, Janko Tipsarevic, Juan Pablo Paz, Sergiy Stakhovsky, André Ghem, Peter Heller and Alex Bogomolov.
— Adam_Addicott (@tennisbanter) February 18, 2019
Sergei Stakhovsky, a member of the ATP Players Council, revealed in the group that the council will meet at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells to discuss the issue. He claims that the ITF is “clueless” and it would be best if ATP took over the organisation of lower-tier tournaments. An ITF spokesperson responded that his comments are “inaccurate” and expressed certainty that his organization is to remain the only one responsible for tennis events below ATP Challenger Tour level.