AO 2017… Extraordinary or Concerning?

Both.

Much has been said about the phenomenal achievements of all 4 finalists of the first slam of the year and I can only add my gushes to the list.

After everything Venus has achieved it would have been so easy, and maybe more sensible, to end her career as a tennis player when she began to struggle with the debilitating Sjogren’s disease. Instead she chose to work incredibly hard to find a way to make it work and found herself back in a grand slam final at 36 years old.

Roger and Rafa have also had to battle through their injuries but somehow managed to find form out of no where, although I suppose 6 months of no tennis doesn’t seem like a lot in the timeline of a decade of greatness.

Serena is the greatest, and continues to force the game to grow with her, although frustratingly it can’t always keep up.

It will be one of the most memorable tournaments ever, with some of the highest TV ratings, more net play in 2 weeks than the entirety of the last 5 years, and confirmation that players will now reach their peak in their 30’s.

So much excitement in the world of tennis but one big issue has been creeping up on us and is getting lost in the hysteria.

If players are coming through later, how do they survive until then?

I now hear myself saying “she is only 21” and “he is only 23” and have no expectation that teenagers should be in grand slams. Yet only ten years ago players were expected to enter the top hundred between the ages of 16 and 19 for women, and 18 and 21 for men. I remember in the junior grand slams I played there were plenty of players in qualifying of the men’s and women’s draws who then stuck around for the junior event, and even a few playing in the main draw who still opted to compete for the junior title.

If we take Kerber, Konta and Evans as examples, they didn’t earn a penny of profit from tennis until they were 23 years old or 25 for Evans. Yet all have been on the challenger circuit competing professionally for at least 6 years. Are we now to expect players to spend this amount of time, money and energy preparing themselves at this level?

It costs a player tens of thousands to maintain a ranking of 200, and that is without paying for a coach. It now seems that it is almost required for a lot of tennis players that they learn their craft at this ranking for a few years. On top of the finances it is incredibly emotionally draining on the circuit as you can win a tournament beating players ranked above you and barely nudge your ranking in the right direction.

The first solution is the obvious desperate need for more money at challenger level. This is an ongoing conversation that I can write about another time so lets focus on some other options for improving this situation.

I really don’t understand why they got rid of feed up tournaments. The winner of a challenger would get a wild card in to a tour event they would otherwise not get in to, giving them an opportunity to compete at a higher level than normal and receive a bigger cheque than normal. At least your moral and bank account will be boosted even if your ranking isn’t.

Players ranked inside 108 should not be allowed to compete in any events below a $100,000 challenger. They are ranked high enough to be in the main draw of grand slams and there is no need to play at such a low level. In 2016 the top seed of small women’s challenger events, was ranked inside 108 a total of 28 times. At the $25,000 event in Rancho Sante Fe, USA the top seed was Shuai Zhang ranked 65 in the world at the time, and at the $50,000 event in Versmold, Germany, the top seed was Schmiedlova ranked 40. If you are ranked 150 then anything short of reaching the final will not move your ranking very far so to be asked to beat this level of player for very few points and money is not fair.

I know these players may fancy some matches but Norwich Football Club can’t enter the Checkatrade Trophy because they haven’t won a game in a while and need some confidence. If their ranking drops through injury or another reason of course they can enter, but if your ranking is high enough you are catered for by the tour events, $125K and $100K tournaments. I do recognise that it is a great opportunity for lower ranked players to compete against this level of player, but they are taking one of the only 32 places in the draw, and anyway if they do lose like Schmiedlova did in Germany, the person who beat them might only win 5 points for that effort.

These changes along with more money will go some way to boosting moral on the challenger circuit which would help talent stay in the game longer, so they have a chance of following the path of Kerber, Konta and Evans to the top of the game.

2 thoughts on “AO 2017… Extraordinary or Concerning?

  1. I totally agree. They change the way rankings points are awarded by making a more gradual increase in the points instead of having steep jumps in taking points between each level: Challenger, International and Premiere. The other thing I would change would be adding a tournament the week after the first round of Fed Cup just for those players who couldn’t play qualifying at the Premiere tournament that the WTA schedules right after Fed Cup or start giving ranking points to those competing in Fed Cup.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Naomi, I think there are some good ideas there (and Kyle too).

      Since AK Schmiedlova’s is mentioned though, you raise a different point; players can fall down the rankings extremely quickly if they have a bad run, as contrasted with the long slow grind they had to go through to get there in the first place; Schmiedlova’s outside the top 200 now as a result of a nightmare end to her 2016 season. At the moment players live in fear of a bad run, knowing that they’ll have the devil’s own job to regain their ranking if they lose it.

      IMO, there needs to be more points available for good results in ITF tournaments; I’d even consider doubling them across the board. 12 points for winning Sharm el Sheikh – come on (well done Lisa Whybourn btw).

      On the main point of more money in the game; I defer knowledgewise to both you and Kyle here, but it seems to me that the problem is twofold. Firstly, the level of public (especially paying public) interest in the women’s game is inadequate to support the cost of the number of players seeking to make a career in it now. When the Guardian reports on women’s tennis, they actually have to tell you for example that Aga Radwanska is Polish and Domi Cibulkova is Slovakian, even though both are well established and in the top 10.

      Secondly, what earnings there are are heavily skewed towards the very top players. Johanna Larsson, for example, has said that she has to watch every penny when she goes on tour and can’t afford a coach for more than a very few weeks a year; and she’s ranked 60th at the moment, so it must be even worse for the players below her.

      Better reporting would help; the press over-reports Nick Kyrgios’s tantrums, even in one tournament (I think it was Madrid last year) at the expense of mentioning that Simona Halep had won the women’s title.

      I’m not singling them out; I don’t get the impression that the other papers in the UK are any better. There are still some excellent tennis writers there (I like Les Roopanarine in the Guardian, for example), but I suppose the decision has been made to cut costs and I don’t see him writing for the paper much now.

      I’d like to finish though by agreeing that having Roger, Rafa and the Williams sisters contesting the AO finals was an amazing achievement for all four of them. I was particularly happy to see Roger win yet another slam, nearly five years after he won his last one.

      Like

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