ITF World Tennis Tour – meet the stars before they are famous

Mirra Andreeva

The ITF World Tennis Tour is leading the drive towards gender parity in tennis prize money and continuing to offer a platform for the future stars of the game to develop.

Hosting entry-level professional tennis tournaments and providing a pathway between the ITF Junior World Tennis Tour and the elite levels of men’s professional tennis, the ITF World Tennis Tour offers tournament ranking points that contribute to an ATP or WTA ranking. This enables professionals to progress to the ATP Challenger Tour and WTA Tour, and ultimately the Grand Slams.

The Tour offers over 1,000 annual tournaments across 70 countries, offering healthy prize money to help reduce costs for players and ultimately enable more to make a living.

Here, in an exclusive interview with Tennis365, Head of the ITF World Tennis Tour, Andrew Moss, gives us the inside story on the team that provides a platform for the next generation of tennis stars.

What is the primary role of the ITF World Tennis Tour?

The broad remit of the ITF is to develop tennis globally and the World Tennis Tour is at the heart of that strategy. At the end of last year, of the top 100 on the men’s and women’s tour, about 50 of each were former Junior top tens. It is such a strong pathway and is the main artery from the junior game to the elite levels.

What prize money is on offer?

The total annual prize money on the World Tennis Tour had never broken $25million until last year, driven mostly by a record $15million on the women’s World Tennis Tour. This year, we are forecasting $17.4million for women, so that is a 15 per-cent increase. We have had a third more prize money in the first quarter of this year for women and 50 per-cent more than in the first quarter of 2019 and this is a real sea change in what we can offer players.

How important is gender parity in prize money?

There is a real drive at the ITF to achieve gender parity at all levels of the game. With that in mind, we are trying to do is provide better paying opportunities on the World Tennis Tour so that more women can legitimately see professional tennis as a career. That has meant more investment in the Women’s W60, W80 and W100 categories [respectively, $60,000, $80,000 and $100,000 in prize money) in a bid to grow the game in those events.

At the same time, we have introduced a new women’s W40 category (40,000 in prize money) and it means that since 2019, we will have doubled that level of event. We had 76 tournaments at the W60, W80 and W100 level four years ago and, including the new W40 category, we will have 150 of these events this year for women. Continuing the growth at that level is all part of our strategy.

We often hear players suggesting it’s hard to make a living out of the game if you are not ranked in the top 100, so can the World Tennis Tour help to solve that issue?

We do a lot of work with the tours around scheduling to ensure it is the most cost-effective for players. It’s not just about tournament numbers, it’s also about what we can offer players. Complimentary hospitality has not been required in the past, but our W80 and W100 tournaments do require hospitality for players now, which will be around 30 events per year. This is a big deal as it means players will have their hotel covered and they may also be able to have their coach onsite, which we know is a massive issue at that level of the game. We want to ensure we are delivering something the players are proud to be a part of.

How does the ITF World Tennis Tour fit into the global tennis calendar?

We work with the WTA and ATP to make sure our scheduling is as efficient as possible, so if you are playing a tournament in Tunisia we want to have a follow-up tournament at a similar level. That means a player can stay in one place and play for two consecutive weeks. We are also working on a pathway study to look at player costs, travel, what they have had to pay out.

What can fans expect to see if they watch a World Tennis Tour event?

The World Tennis Tour gives you a chance to see the next stars in tennis at the start of their journey. It’s almost like getting to know a band before they are famous. We look at someone like Mirra Andreeva, who won two back-to-back W60s in Switzerland before she made her mark on the WTA Tour by performing so well at the Madrid Open. There are so many stories like that on our Tour.

Iga Swiatek won the ITF World Tennis Tour in 2018
Iga Swiatek won the ITF World Tennis Tour in 2018

How can fans follow the ITF World Tennis Tour?

We stream matches on the ITF website and it gives it great exposure. In addition, we have recently launched a dedicated World Tennis Tour Instagram account and hopefully that will allow us to reach out to a big tennis audience. Part of what we are trying to do with the social media work is highlight the stories of players who have progressed through the ITF World Tennis Tour in the past and you look back and see Iga Swiatek winning a W60 in Montreux just five years ago and won it. Carlos Alcaraz was M25 Denia just four years ago and there will be more stories like this to come.

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