I was a professional on tour for many years so know what it takes to become a professional tennis player. I now work with some of the leading players in the game and wanted to share some of my experiences and views.
No matter what a person chooses to do, it is very difficult to turn a passion into a professional career. It is especially difficult for tennis players because there are only about 100 players who make a good living as professionals on the ATP and WTA tours. Players must consistently deliver at high levels to maintain their ratings since everyone else is competing hard to take their place.
While many of the phases are universal to other sports, some are particular to tennis, and having been a professional tennis player I will break them down further.
Tennis players who wish to have any chance of becoming professionals must, in simple terms, begin practicing and competing at a young age. Tennis requires a tremendous amount of ability and years and years of practice hitting tens of thousands of balls back over a net. Even having a year or two of a late start as a young player could slow a player’s improvement.
Few players on the current circuit have been described as late bloomers, so have a look around. Before they turned ten, almost all of them held a racquet, and about that time, they began to take it seriously. Just look at how many of the top players all played junior tennis tournaments together. Players cannot get away with pure athleticism as they can in sports like football and basketball or other team sports since there is such a high level of refined skill required for tennis.
Here I break down the various stages of this journey
- National-Local tournaments
- ITF Juniors tournaments
- College tennis
- ITF events
- Challenger Tour
- ATP Tour
- Tennis academies
- Expenses and Costs
National and Local Tournaments
Most younger players participate in nearby junior local and national tournaments to test their skill levels. Young players who are passionate about tennis may not be aware of their present level of skill at this moment. The best way to find out is to start by participating, and junior events held nearby are a perfect place to do so.
Before moving on to something larger and better, a player must win these events. Early wins and confidence boosts are always wonderful, but if a player wants to make it as a professional, they ultimately need to develop a little more skill.
Most tennis players nowadays won’t be satisfied with limiting their play to a single nation. Just take a closer look at the top 100 players on the ATP and WTA tours to see the diversity of nations. The foreign tour also brings with it new difficulties that might not be immediately apparent.
ITF Junior Tournaments
Tennis is an international sport, so to advance as a professional tennis player, most players will need to participate in events organized by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Young tennis players who are under the age of 18 can participate in ITF Juniors, which offers them the chance to compete in international events, improve their abilities, and get experience in a highly competitive atmosphere.
Depending on the level of competition, ITF Junior events are divided into multiple categories, with Grade A tournaments being the highest level and Grade 5 tournaments being the lowest. Depending on their rankings, which are a result of how well they perform in these competitions, players can enter higher-level events.
For young players hoping to make it as professional tennis players, the ITF Juniors circuit serves as a stepping stone. Grand Slam champions and top-ranked players are just a few of the current and previous professional tennis players who participated in ITF Juniors competitions throughout their junior days.
Overall, ITF Juniors offers young tennis players a venue where they may test their abilities against peers from across the world, gain important experience, and pursue their goals of becoming professional tennis players.
Many student-athletes choose to play college tennis each year, predominantly in the US. These athletes are typically high school graduates who have demonstrated talent and skill in tennis, and who wish to continue playing the sport at a competitive level while pursuing a college education. For exceptional athletes, there are scholarships available.
College tennis can be a pathway for talented players to develop their skills and gain exposure to professional opportunities. Some notable tennis players who played college tennis include John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, John Isner, and Sam Querrey, among others.
ITF Pro Futures- First step on Pro Tournaments
ITF Pro Futures is a professional circuit that is run by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). The ATP and WTA circuits are open to players who have qualified for these events, which constitute the lowest level of professional tennis competition.
For the ITF men’s circuit, the prize money for men’s events ranges from $10,000 to $25,000, and for women’s events, it ranges from $10,000 to $15,000. Players outside the top 300 in the world compete in these events, which are often conducted over a week.
Players may advance in the rankings and obtain access to higher-level events by participating in future tournaments, which give important ranking points. Players who place in the quarterfinals can earn up to 3 ATP ranking points, while winners of Futures events can receive 15 or 25 ATP points, depending on whether the prize money is $15,000 or $25,000.
Players must participate in several futures tournaments to earn a spot in higher-level competitions like the ATP Challenger Tour and, eventually, the ATP World Tour or WTA Tour. Futures tennis tournaments are conducted all around the world. Good tennis players usually go through future tournaments very quickly. In about one year, they get high enough on the ATP rankings so they can get into Challenger.
After the ATP Tour, the ATP Challenger Tour is the highest level of men’s professional tennis competition. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) has put together a series of events for tennis players who want to move up from the Futures level to the ATP Tour.
Prize money for Challenger events normally ranges from $35,000 to $150,000, making them more profitable than Futures tournaments. In addition, competitors outside the top 100 compete in these tournaments, drawing higher-ranked players.
The ATP Tour requires players to compete at a high level, and challenger events, which are conducted all over the world, are an essential stepping stone for players to reach that level of competition. A player can receive up to 175 ranking points for winning a Challenger event, and up to 100 ranking points for making it to the final.
Players who are among the top 100 can also participate in challenger competitions to keep or improve their ranks. Players who are recovering from injuries or who have fallen in the rankings can use challenger events to regain their confidence and form.
In general, Challenger events are a crucial component of the tennis system since they give players the chance to improve their abilities and face off against players of a better quality while also giving tennis spectators access to highly qualified matches.
Every young kid’s goal when starting to play tennis is to participate in the ATP Tour.
The ATP Tour is the highest level of men’s professional tennis and features tournaments held throughout the year in different locations around the world.
The ranking points and prize money for ATP tournaments are used to group them. The Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open) are the most important events on the ATP Tour and award the greatest prize money and ranking points.
Other significant ATP events include the ATP Tour Masters 1000, which consists of nine events hosted yearly in different parts of the world, as well as the ATP Tour 500 and ATP Tour 250 competitions, which provide less money in prize money and ranking points than the Masters 1000 tournaments.
The top players compete in ATP tournaments to keep or gain ranking points, win important titles, and receive big prize money and ranking points.
Tennis Academies for young players
Tennis academies can be a good choice for a young player who wants to be a better player and has a dream to become a pro. They are specialized training facilities that provide elite tennis players with coaching and training programs. These academies provide an environment where players can develop their skills and prepare for professional competition, as well as receive a quality education. Many tennis academies offer both full-time and part-time programs and may cater to players of all ages and skill levels.
Typically, highly skilled coaches and trainers who have also competed at a high-level run tennis academies. They may offer specialized training in areas such as technique, strategy, mental preparation, and fitness.
Attending a tennis academy can provide players with a unique opportunity to train with other high-level players, receive personalized coaching, and immerse themselves in the sport. However, it can also be expensive and may require players to relocate to a different city or country.
Famous academies include Rafa Nadal’s Academy in Mallorca and Novak’s Academy in Serbia.
Expenses and costs
Becoming a tennis professional can be an expensive endeavor, as there are numerous costs associated with training, traveling, equipment, and coaching.
A private coach is required if you are hoping to have a good professional career in tennis. The rates of private coaches on the ATP Tour depend on a few things, but the starting price is around 1,000 USD per week and can go up to 4,000–5,000 USD or more.
Tennis racquets, strings, footwear, apparel, and accessories may be expensive, and players frequently need to update their equipment on a regular basis.
Travel expenses: Professional tennis players must travel extensively to compete in tournaments around the world, which can be a significant expense. The player is also covering expenses for him and his whole team.
Physical: tennis players must be in excellent physical condition and participate in many training and practice sessions, which can be costly.
Overall, the costs associated with becoming a professional tennis player can be substantial, with some estimates suggesting that it can cost between $50,000 and $100,000 per year to support a player on the professional tour. However, many players receive support from sponsors, national tennis federations, or other sources, which can help offset some of these expenses. Here we look at how much the top tennis players earn and touch on the subject of how those outside the top 100 survive on the tour.
Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray – The Big Four
Rafael Nadal turned professional in 2001 at the age of 15. He played his first professional match in April 2002 at the age of 15 years and 10 months, which made him the ninth-youngest player in the Open Era to win a match on the ATP Tour.
Roger Federer turned professional at the age of 17 in 1998. He played his first professional match later that year at the Gstaad Open in Switzerland, where he reached the quarterfinals.
Novak Djokovic turned professional in 2003 at the age of 16. He played his first professional match that same year, in July, at the ATP Croatia Open in Umag, where he reached the quarterfinals.
Andy Murray became a professional tennis player in 2005, at the age of 18. He had already achieved success as a junior player, winning the prestigious Orange Bowl championship in 1999 and 2001, as well as the US Open junior title in 2004.
Murray’s first professional tournament was the Davis Cup in 2005, where he represented Great Britain. He then went on to play in several ATP Challenger and Futures events before making his Grand Slam debut at the 2005 Wimbledon Championships, where he reached the third round.
The oldest professional tennis player in the Open Era on the WTA tour (since 1968) was Kimiko Date of Japan, who retired at the age of 46 in 2017. Date turned pro in 1989 and had a successful career, winning eight singles titles and reaching a career-high ranking of world No. 4 in 1995.
One of the oldest tennis players is Jimmy Connors, who played his last ATP singles match at the age of 43 in 1996, and Ivo Karlovic. However, professional tennis players can continue to play at a high level well into their 30s and even beyond, with many players competing into their 40s. This is due in part to advances in sports science and training techniques, which allow players to maintain their fitness and conditioning for longer periods of time.
Overall, becoming a professional tennis player requires hard work, dedication, and a lot of practice. It’s important to stay focused and committed to your goals, and to seek out the resources and support you need to succeed. It’s a long journey!