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Career path to becoming a professional tennis player: US College or Pro?

As part of my initial consultation with parents/players one key question that I ask is what is your long term goal?


Observation

Invariably 90% respond “Be a professional tennis player and become world number 1” Let me be clear that no one has the right to tell another person what they can or cannot do, however I feel obligated to provide these parents/players with as much relevant information possible about these two options and their probability of success before they continue on their tennis journey.


This article attempts to provide information regarding the US College system and the professional tennis pathway.


US College

US College is growing in popularity in India as both parents and players, invariably get what they want. Parents get the academic benefits and players get the athletic advantages (they get to continue playing tennis for another 4 years). Both parties can also win out in terms of potentially attaining a college scholarship.


There are certain criteria that the player/student will have to meet in order to gain acceptance into the US College system. These include -


GPA – Grade Point Average. Generally a GPA of 3.0 or more is required for most universities. Your GPA is based on your schools grades for years 9, 10, 11 and 12. There are many international agencies who can calculate your GPA for you (for a fee).


SAT – Scholastic Assessment Test. This exam contains Mathematics (worth 800 marks) and English (also 800 marks). A maximum score of 1600 can be reached. To attend one of the eight Ivy League schools generally a SAT of 1400 or above is required.


UTR – Universal Tennis Rating. This has been adopted by most US College coaches as it gives an accurate guide as to a players playing level. In general if a player wishes to receive a tennis scholarship in a Division 2 school a UTR of 10.5 for boys and a UTR of 9.0 for girls is required. If the player wishes to attend a Division 1 school generally an 11.5 or above is required for boys and a 10.5 is required for girls. (For further information about UTR please visit myutr.com).


Based on the above three criteria a scholarship may be offered. Although rare, 100% scholarships may be given. These scholarships generally include accommodation, meals, tuition, books, tennis team travel, tennis equipment/clothing etc.


One misconception I wish to clarify is the myth that the level of US college tennis is low. This cannot be further from the truth. Players from all over the world attend US College and the level of tennis is extremely high and for many players serves as an apprenticeship for the pro tour. Former US College players include, Cameron Norrie, John Isner, Kevin Anderson, the Bryan brothers, Somdev Devvarman etc. In the 2020 US Open men’s draw there were 14 main players who had attended a US University.


Upon graduation (after 4 years) the player will have a Bachelor’s degree, therefore increasing the chances of attaining professional level employment once the player finishes his/her playing days. The life experience gained during these four years must also be mentioned.


Pro Path

Deciding to become a professional tennis player requires primarily three key components.


Persistence Many players make the decision of becoming a professional tennis player around the age of 17. This decision is primarily based on junior tournament results, which in some cases can be a dangerous basis for their decision. The reason why I mention persistence is the average age for a player in the top 100 ATP is 26 and top 100 WTA is 24. This means should the player decide at 17 to “go pro” he will be needing another 9 years in order to potentially attain a top 100 ranking on tour. There are of course exceptions but these numbers are the global average.


Funding Having ample financial support to provide the player with enough competitive opportunities is paramount. If due to limited funding the player can only play a limited tournament schedule, the potential for ranking advancement is reduced. Furthermore the player may take some added pressure into these events knowing that if he/she cannot get a result thousands of dollars may be wasted. Remember the cost of international travel can add up with expenses including airfares, accommodation, meals, visa fees, entry fees and local transport.


Finance is required in other parts of the player’s development including coaching, nutrition, psychology, equipment, massage etc. In general a player ranked around 500 ATP will spend 30% of their total budget on development and the remaining 70% on tournament travel.


In my experience, for a player ranked 500 ATP (based in India) the average yearly expenditure will be approximately Rs.25 Lac (USD $35,000)


Support (the player’s inner circle and the National Federation). First and foremost the player must have a very supportive inner circle. Parents, siblings and close friends/relatives, provide the integral emotional support that a players needs during this journey. Without this support, funding may be reduced and player motivation and belief will surely decline. Many players now have mentors (generally former players) who can offer advice on how to handle a loss, the media, injuries and tournament schedules.


If the player is lucky enough to have the support of their National federation, this can potentially see a fast tracking of results due to the allotment of tournament wild cards. Many National associations will award their up and coming juniors with wild cards in the hope that they can become the next National Star.


The probability of success going down the professional tennis pathway (being able to financially become profitable) is small and as such consideration of attending US College may be the “safer” path for many. We only get one chance at this tennis journey, so my advice is to listen to your peers/coaches and make an honest appraisal of your game.


Whatever decision you do take, commit to it and give it your absolute best.


Enjoy the journey.


If you wish to speak further with Todd about the article or discuss about your Child's Tennis journey click here






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