Understanding the Pro Tennis Ladder - How Do They Make It to the Top?

Tens of thousands officially declare themselves to be “professional tennis players”.

In other words, it means that these players are, in one way or another, part of the international tennis circuit.

It can be a very generic classification – after all, the tennis circuit is split into many different tiers.

The ITF World Tennis Tour, the WTA 125K Series, the WTA Tour, the ATP Challenger Tour, and the ATP Tour all fall under this umbrella.

So it’s only fair to wonder how this complicated system actually works.

Here is a guide that will help you understand the road pro players have to take in order to reach the summit.

To answer all your tennis related questions check out our ultimate tennis guide.

Getting Started: the ITF World Tennis Tour

The first step a young professional needs to take is getting into the ITF level tournaments.

The lowest tier of international competitions, the ITF is split into four different tournaments categories for men and nine for women.

The ITF Men’s Circuit features the 25+H, 25, 15+H and 15 tournaments – the number refers to the total prize pool, while H tournaments also cover for hospitality costs.

As for the Women’s Circuit, ITF tournaments are split into 100K+H, 100K, 75K+H, 75K, 50K+H, 50K, 25K, 15K and 10K.

The ITF circuit is quite interesting, as it features both young, up-and-coming players, as well as veterans chasing after the dream of making a living out of the sport.

For talented players, the ITF level is simply a stepping stone.

This is where the first big cut happens, as hanging around this level for too long won’t be enough to make a living.

Men’s tournament pays 10 ATP points at the 15 level and 20 points at the 25 level.

Women’s tournaments pay from 12 WTA points at the 10K level up to a respectable 150 at the 100K level.

This is part of the reason why experts consider the climb up the WTA rankings into the top 100 slightly quicker compared to the ATP.

The Second Tier – ATP Challenger Tour and WTA 125K Series

After making it out of Futures, the next steps are the ATP Challenger Tour for men and the WTA 125K Series for women.

These tournaments are run by the professional associations, marking a significant step for players.

All sorts of players compete at the Challenger Tour level, from young stars to journeymen pros and even former top 10 players.

The Challenger Tour is split into 125, 100, 100, 90 and 80 tournaments, the number referring to the amount of points paid to the champion.

The 125K tournaments pay 160 WTA ranking points, with a total prize pool of $125,000.

The prize pool for the Challenger Tour events fluctuates quite a bit, ranging from $100,000 to $150,000.

Some tournaments also cover hospitality costs, although the total prize pool takes a hit.

The Final Step – the ATP and WTA Tour

If a player achieves a high enough ranking at the Challenger Tour/125K Series level, it’s finally time to move on.

The ATP and WTA Tour are the top level of professional tennis, with a significant increase in prize money.

Players that manage to compete at this level are usually able to make a living out of the sport.

The ATP Tour is split into Masters 1000, ATP 500 and ATP 250 tournaments.

The WTA Tour, meanwhile, is split into Premier Mandatory, Premier 5, Premier and International level tournaments.

Finally, we also have the four major tournaments or Grand Slams.

Winning a Slam nets 2,000 points as well as a significant sum of prize money.

For the average pro player, simply making it to the first round could net enough money to pay out the year’s expenses.

The Tough Reality of Professional Players

While tens of thousands declare themselves as professional players, few of them can actually put a claim to this.

When factoring in traveling and hospitality costs, food, transportation, and the coaching staff, making a living out of the sport becomes increasingly difficult.

Only a few hundred players at the ATP and WTA levels actually make a profit at the end of the year.

In fact, the vast majority of players would consider breaking it even at the end of the season a major achievement.
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