Jared Hiltzik Speaks About Issues with ITF Transition Tour

Jared Hiltzik–a very successful NCAA player at the University of Illinois, who turned pro after finishing his four years there–became yet another player to speak about issues with the ITF on Tuesday, posting his thoughts on Twitter.

With no ATP ranking points available in smaller Futures events, and with the very limited number of points available in the $15K events, every player who can possibly get into Challengers is choosing that route. That leaves far fewer (often no) spots available in Challengers for players like Hiltzik, currently ranked No. 355 in the World. Last year, a player with that ranking might not be able to enter the highest-paying Challengers, but such a player would have been able to enter lower Challengers, or at the very least qualifying events for Challengers. Now, though, Challengers have only four qualifying spots–three based on ITF ranking points, and one wild card.

Hiltzik further elaborated the dilemma on Twitter:

Hiltzik further agreed to expand on his thoughts and the issues with the ITF in an interview with LastWordOnTennis.

Interview

LWOT: How, precisely, have the ITF ranking changes affected you?
JH: Even though my ranking was not affected by the change, I am now unable to play in the same tournaments that I once was able to. The entry cuts have been tougher because players are realizing there are less opportunities to play with these rule changes. With the elimination of qualifying spots for ATP ranked players, I am no longer able to play these events. In a lot of these tournaments that I have not gotten into, I would have most likely been seeded in qualifying in the past. However, since I didn’t play many Futures events last year, my transition tour ranking is not high enough to get me in to those spots that are open solely for ITF ranked players.

LWOT: Did you have enough (or any) advance notice of how the changes could affect you? Was this planned out ahead of time to give players enough time to prepare, or were you caught by surprise?
JH: We were told about the changes early/mid 2018, but not the specifics. We were just told they would be implementing a new ranking system for the “transition tour,” not that qualifying for Challengers for ATP ranked players would be eliminated.

LWOT: Were any of the changes needed at all, or were they solving a problem that didn’t exist?
JH: From my understanding, the two main ideas behind the changes were to put more money in the pockets of “professional players” and to control sports betting. Betting in sports is, unfortunately, never going to go away. It has become out of control in tennis, especially overseas. I think their idea behind putting more money in the pockets of “professional players” by requiring tournaments to include housing, is helpful. Us players travel nearly three weeks out of the month. That’s a ton of expenses between food, lodging, airfare, etc. so I do agree with that element. But, not at the expense of limiting the amount of players that can play in tournaments.

LWOT: Have you spoken to other players about this? Do they agree with you? Disagree?
JH: I have spoken to a lot of players about it. I think we all mutually agree that the toughest position to be in is being ranked between 325-500 ATP, recent college graduates, and players that were injured last year and couldn’t accumulate points. Those players just aren’t able to get into any Challengers, or Futures if you’re just starting to make your run for it. For players between 325-500 ATP, taking a step back to Futures doesn’t help increase their ATP ranking, even if they win the tournament. Plus it hurts the up-and-coming players’ ability to excel in ITF tournaments.

LWOT: If you could make changes to fix the situation, what would you do?
JH: There are definitely a couple of routes to solving the problem, but a good start would be to open up qualifying draws at the Challenger level to ATP players.

LWOT: Seeing as you had a long college tennis career, how does this specifically affect former NCAA players? Does the new system effectively stop former NCAA players from moving on to the pros?
JH: It doesn’t effectively stop them but it just makes the pathway that much harder. Top college guys who are very, very good tennis players are now unable to get into the even smallest events.

Takeaways

Hiltzik points out that one of the easiest, quickest ways to fix current issues would be to expand qualifying draws. The ITF did just announce that qualifying at some events would be expanded from 24 to 32 spots. However, the tournaments that most need larger qualifying draws are the Challengers. These are the events that really give out the ATP ranking points (a total of 3 points goes to the winner of a $15K Futures), and they are where players need to win matches to make it on tour.

Hiltzik also notes that this issue will adversely affect NCAA players. The best will hopefully find ways to get into events–American-born NCAA standouts will likely get a few wild cards throughout the season–but the pathway is so much tougher. Players receive no points for NCAA success, so those moving from college to the pros have to start from scratch. And since players who go to college are older, they can’t receive the special ITF spots in $15K events reserved for top juniors.

A year would have been enough time for players on tour to try to adjust and earn both ITF and ATP points if they could. For players still in college or in juniors last year, though, the option wasn’t really there. Making that jump from the NCAAs to the pros will only be much harder now. And, as Hiltzik noted on Twitter, players overburdening themselves trying to keep up with both the ITF and ATP will present physical issues as well. (In addition to any financial hardships it would cause.)

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