ITF accuses ATP of blocking ‘necessary’ changes

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The International Tennis Federation has accused the ATP of blocking change that could alleviate the struggles of players at the lower levels of the game.

The ITF has borne the brunt of fierce criticism of major structural alterations to the sport that came into force at the beginning of the year.

The number of players deemed professional has been slashed, with ATP and WTA Tour ranking points no longer available for the smallest tournaments, which instead now award ITF points.

The aim was to provide a more straightforward pathway for young players, allow more players to make a living from the sport and tackle the integrity issues that come with thousands of players earning little or no prize money.

In announcing the changes, the ITF stated it hoped that around 750 men and a similar number of women would be classed as truly professional, but admits that currently the system is only working for the top 350 men.

Those players are catered for by the main ATP Tour and the secondary Challenger Tour, but below that the ATP, unlike the WTA on the women’s side, is currently refusing to award all but a few ranking points for the series of 25,000 US dollar tournaments.

Kris Dent, the ITF’s senior executive director of professional tennis, told Press Association Sport: “We have spoken to them a number of times and made this request. To date they haven’t agreed to put those points back in.

“I don’t want to speak for them but my understanding is they want to wait and see how this plays out over the first two quarters of the year but we believe the issue is more immediate than that and it would make immediate sense to have those points back in.

“At the moment we’re not addressing the player opportunity issue and creating essentially a bottleneck at the 25,000 level, which understandably is causing frustration for the players who are in that ranking band.”

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In response, the ATP released a statement in which the ITF’s comments were described as “surprising”, claiming that the issue requires “further assessment”.

It read: “The charges that have been implemented to the structure of the lowest levels of professional tennis in 2019 are widespread and require ongoing analysis and review, as evidenced by the further charges announced by the ITF.

“The ATP is committed to ensuring that there are sufficient playing opportunities at the entry level into professional tennis and that players who achieve success are rewarded adequately as they forge a career in the sport.

“Regarding the allocation of ATP rankings points at the $25,000 ITF events, the ATP has already raised this with the ITF as a matter which requires further assessment in order to ensure that the pathway into the ATP Challenger Tour and beyond is working effectively.

“Those conversations are well under way, which makes the statement from the ITF surprising, and we look forward to reaching an agreement on this as soon as possible.”

Players have been vocal in their disdain for the new system on social media. A petition started by Canadian player Maria Patrascu has attracted close to 15,000 signatures.

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High-profile coaches like Toni Nadal, Patrick Mouratoglou and Magnus Norman have all voiced their concerns and the ITF insists it is listening.

Alterations have already been made, with a small increase in the size of qualifying draws announced last month and further changes detailed on Wednesday.

These include another increase in qualifying to boost the number of players able to compete each week as well as the regulation of pre-qualifying, which has been a major bone of contention.

Some tournaments were taking advantage of players desperate to get into their events by setting up pre-qualifying rounds that required entrants to stay in official hotels.

Discussions will be had, meanwhile, about expanding qualifying draws further to 48 players, meaning players would have to play two matches in one day.

Regardless of the teething problems, Dent has no doubt the move has been the right one, saying: “This is one of the biggest reform programmes in tennis.

“Unfortunately the sport didn’t act on the issues at the bottom of the game for many decades. Yes I accept it is big change and it’s difficult change, but it’s absolutely necessary change.

“We’ve always said that this isn’t the end of what we’re doing. What we’re putting in place is a new system that needs to be adjusted as we go along to make it work. We’re listening to the stakeholders and adapting where we can, and that process will be ongoing.”

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