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.