The Association of Tennis Professionals in July announced significant changes to its Challenger Tour in a move it believes will streamline the sport at lower levels in the men’s circuit and enable more players to make a living from tennis.

Among the most important changes is: From 2020, ATP ranking points will be not be awarded in International Tennis Federation (ITF) events.

Currently, the winner of an ITF Futures $25,000+H event gets 35 ATP points. In 2019, in such tournaments, which will be called the ITF Transition Tour 25,000+H, the winner will only get five ATP points, the finalist will get three, and semi-finalists one. But 2020 onwards, a player can’t get ATP points in ITF events.

ATP points in ITF events

ITF Events Points on offer in 2018 Points on offer in 2019
25,000+H (Hospitality) 35(W), 20(F), 10(SF), 4(QF), 1(R16) 5(W), 3(F), 1(SF)
25,000 27(W), 15(F), 8(SF), 3(QF), 1(R16) 3(W), 1(F)
15,000+H 27(W), 15(F), 8(SF), 3(QF), 1(R16) No ATP points
15,000 18(W), 10(F), 6(SF), 2(QF), 1(R16) No ATP points

Prajnesh Gunneswaran, India’s top-ranked singles player at No 110, said it will now be tough for the players to move from transition tour to the Challenger level.

“I guess they [ATP] want to just separate the levels,” he said. “Obviously, everyone’s a little sceptical. But that’s normal. We have to see whether it works positively or not.”

He added, “It can work both ways. The lower-ranked players don’t necessarily have to play the top-200 guys in Futures. That makes it easier to do well there and again that means they make more money.”

The move has created an apprehension among upcoming and lower-ranked players. Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Nedovyesov, ranked 181st in the world, need not worry about dropping to the transition tour next year. But he reckons the renovation in rankings will imperil the lower-ranked and upcoming players.

“For the upcoming players who are trying to break through, it’s going to be tough,” he said. “Ninety percent of the opinions of players [I spoke to] is negative.”

Nedovyesov believes that the lack of ATP points in the transition tour will demotivate players. “Yes, it would impact players in the 350-500 [rank] range and lower. For them, it would be a dream to see their name in the ATP rankings, doesn’t matter if it’s 3,000.”

He added, “I am not criticising ATP. All I am saying is, there’s got to be a dialogue between players when ATP wants to change something. For example, no one asked me what I think should happen next year. They just said this is what going to happen. That’s it.”

The important changes:

  • From 2019, there will be changes in ATP points awarded at all levels of tournaments.
  • The ATP Challenger Tour will be the entry point for men’s professional tennis.
  • In 2020, only Grand Slams, ATP World Tour and ATP Challenger Tour will offer ATP points.

According to ATP, approximately 750 singles and as many doubles players will have an ATP rank with the new system. Using the new ranking system and counting only tournaments played in 2018, 405 players have an ATP ranking compared to 1,020 with the current ranking through March. It will drastically bring down Indian entries in the ATP list.

“It’s definitely going to be very tough for Indian players,” said Indian Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali. “Many of them will lose their ATP ranks next year. It’s going to be a very tough situation in the transitional tour.”

Ali added that India hasn’t planned any transitional tour events for next year, but refused to put the blame on the All India Tennis Association because it’s difficult to get sponsorships for events in which the top-400 wouldn’t play.

“It’s going to be a tough situation for the lower-ranked players because there aren’t many Futures tournaments happening in India and they can’t play in Challengers too,” he said. “The first six-seven months in 2019 is going to be a trial-and-error situation for players and for the federations.”

The Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association’s Sunder Iyer had said that the changes in ATP has proved troublesome for Asian countries, especially India. The AITA, which has over the years changed its domestic structure to host a lot of ITF events, should now go in for a major overhaul.

But the tournament director of Bengaluru Open ATP Challenger, Sunil Yajaman, has welcomed the move. “Tennis needs some experiment,” he said. “I think this is one step towards that. I feel it’s going to be exciting.”

About players missing ATP ranks, he said, “I feel it’s not going to matter much. Even today, a player who participates in the ITF Futures and gets one or two points here and there is not able to get into ATP Challenger anyway. I think ATP is focusing more on the quality and making it exciting for the sport.”

Several players don’t know how the systemic change will impact them and, hence, are unable to plan their season well in advance.

For instance, Saketh Myneni, when asked about the matter at Bengaluru Open last week, said, “I heard like there is a big change that is coming in terms of 750 ranks. That’s all I know. But I don’t know the exact things which will be implemented for next year. They said it is going to be utter chaos for the first three months and I am just waiting for the chaos to start.”