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First ATP point – how to score it.

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Scoring your first ATP point is seen by many young players as the ultimate achievement in tennis. This is certainly true for myself but sadly, I’m probably the wrong side of 30 to be attempting this feat. Of course, my passion for tennis got the better of me at the end of 2012 so I decided to give it a shot.

Having an ATP point places you on the world computer rankings chart
and players often consider this achievement the transition between
amateur and professional. If you’re up for the challenge of getting a
world tennis ranking, know that it’s not just about being able to play
good tennis. My brief experience playing these tournaments has shown me
that there are many other facets of preparation that can make your quest
for that golden point a little easier to achieve.

It can help to know a little about the structure of world tennis. Essentially, there are two governing bodies for world tennis, the Association of Tennis Professionals [ATP] and the International Tennis Federation [ITF]. The ATP world tour comprises the ATP World Tour Masters 1000, 500 series, 250 series, and the Challenger Tour. These tournaments are for players already well established on the world ranking charts, and usually lie within the top 250 players in the world. You might better recognise these tournaments as the ones you see televised on pay TV. It’s unlikely you’ll be making your debut here.

first ATP point

Assuming you’ve done the hard yards through the national ranking charts of your particular country, the ITF is the place to start. This organisation runs the entry level professional tournaments effectively serving as the pathway to the higher level tournaments on the ATP tour. The ITF provides some information for players starting out, trying to get their first ATP point, which you can visit here. Having played some of these tournaments however, I have learnt a few extra helpful points.

How to get accepted into a futures tournament

This is the first step you need to take, you’ll need what is called an IPIN membership. This is essentially a registration process with the ITF that allows you to enter tournaments and manage your playing schedule. Be warned that agreeing to their terms and conditions includes consent to random drug testing, and their fining system. You won’t have a chance to score your first ATP point unless you do this!

Whilst on tour, I met many players who had incurred fines for pulling
out of tournaments after the withdrawal deadline. There is a US$50 fine
for doing this and you will be unable to enter successive tournaments
until the fine is paid. Of course, if you have a genuine injury, you can
avoid paying this fine by issuing the ITF committee with a valid
medical certificate.

More importantly, if you understand the process of being
accepted into a futures tournament, you can increase your chances of
getting an easy draw and also avoid incurring costly fines. Your IPIN
membership, entitles you to enter up to six tournaments around the world
that fall on the same dates. You can indicate your priority for each of
these tournaments so that, for example, your first preference is to
play a tournament in Turkey, your second preference Cambodia, third in
Korea, etcetera.

The reason people might enter more than one tournament is to do with
how individual entries are accepted into tournaments. At the time of
entry, there are two pertinent pieces of information recorded that
determine whether you will be accepted into the tournament you are
entering. Your ATP or national ranking, and your nationality. Let’s
assume you’re entering a weaker futures tournament. Those players with
ATP rankings, will most likely get direct acceptance into the main draw.
It is usually the case that there are enough entries with ATP rankings
that all the places allocated for direct acceptance into the main draw
are filled. The remaining entries will be allocated places in the
qualifying rounds.

There will often be about five or six players in the qualifying
rounds with ATP rankings. The remaining places will be those with
national rankings. For Australian players, the ITF defines a player to
have a national ranking only if that ranking lies within the top 500
players. In my case, at the time of entry, my ranking was in the low

To manage the mixed list of players with ATP and national rankings, plus those who may have entered without national rankings, an acceptance list is generated. Essentially, each entry is ranked in a giant list of players. Those with ATP rankings are at the top, in the middle are those with national rankings, and towards the bottom are those with no form of ranking. You can still enter a tournament even if you don’t have a national ranking, but as you’ll see, it’s unlikely you will be accepted. Keep trying though – it’s the only way to score your first ATP point!

What is unclear, is how the ITF positions players in the acceptance
list with national rankings against players from other countries also
with national rankings. With my ranking of 430, I was in front of a
number of other people who had top 100 rankings in their countries.

I can only assume that the ITF takes into account, the general
standard of play within each country (eg. Australian tennis would be of a
generally higher standard than Botswana) and thereafter, the number of
people from the same country who have entered the tournament. As I was
the only Australian player when I travelled to Burundi and Rwanda, I was
accepted into the qualifying rounds in both cases. I take this to mean
that the ITF would prefer to run a tournament that represents players
from as many countries as possible.

The point to be made here is that my Australian national ranking was
not low enough to get me into an Australian futures event. As the
standard of play is very high in Australia, I would have most likely
needed a ranking inside the top 300. I stood a better chance of playing a
futures tournament by travelling to another country. This is further
reason for me assuming that I was accepted into the Burundi and Rwanda
events because of my nationality before many other players with national
rankings inside the top 100 of their own countries.

The other point is that if you don’t have a ranking at all, it’s
possible you may not be of high enough standard to play in a futures
tournament to start with. Perhaps the best place for you to start would
be by playing tournaments where you can score points that contribute to a
national ranking. This is a much healthier way of building confidence
within your game and you will avoid the potential disappointment of
being overpowered by a seasoned professional. Getting flogged overseas,
particularly after making such a financial investment of getting there
in the first place, could be very damaging to one’s desire for getting
an ATP point.

Choose your tournament

There’s quite possibly an art to choosing which tournaments to play. If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to find a tournament that isn’t too strong – this way you stand the best chance of scoring your first ATP point. This in itself is difficult as the general standard of players who enter these tournaments is very high. There are a few factors however, which determine whether a particular tournament will be stronger or weaker than the next.

There are two types of futures events known colloquially as “tens” or
“fifteens”. This is a reference to the prize money on offer, either
$10,000 or $15,000. Naturally, where there is more money offered, there
will be stronger players. Rather play in a “ten” for your first time

Consider the country where you will play the tournament. It is well
known that Europe is home to the majority of the best tennis players in
the world. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the futures tournaments
played in countries like France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Serbia, Croatia,
etcetera are extremely strong. There is a high population of tennis
players in these parts of the world, and this breeds strong competition.

By comparison, the tournaments around central Africa and parts of
Northern Africa are noticeably weaker. Ask yourself, in the history of
tennis, how many top 100 players hail from Africa versus those from
Europe? Whilst it may be more expensive travelling to remote areas such
as Africa or even South East Asia, it can sometimes prove an easier
route to the main draw of a futures tournament. It seems that choosing
the right place to play your tournaments may sometimes involve choosing a
country where the sport of tennis is less popular than other sports.

You might also consider checking the Challenger tournament schedule. In some cases throughout the year, a Challenger tournament may overlap a Futures tournament. In this instance, ATP ranked players will fill the Challenger draw leaving less to fill that of the Futures draw. If you’re lucky, the popularity of the Challenger tournament may see you getting excepted into a Futures tournament in a location where you may otherwise not have.

Tennis club Rwanda

Entering Tournaments

I learnt just how easy it is to incur fines if you don’t keep a close
eye on the tournaments you have entered through your IPIN account. If
you’ve taken advantage of the entry system and have entered the six
maximum number of tournament entries allowed, be sure to withdraw from
those you don’t intend on playing by the entry withdrawal deadline. This
is important as, depending on your world or national ranking, there’s a
chance you may receive direct entry into a tournament you’re not
seriously considering of playing. Note that entries for a tournament
only open three weeks prior to it’s commencement date.

Remember, people from all over the world are constantly entering and
withdrawing tournaments for a multitude of reasons. They might be
injured, have run out of money for travel, have chosen to travel with
other players to a different country where the tournament is considered
weaker or more prize money, etcetera. This means the acceptance lists
are always changing. As soon as your entry falls into the qualifying or
main draw rounds of one of the tournaments you have entered in your IPIN
account, you will be expected to play that tournament unless you
withdraw by the entry withdrawal deadline. If you don’t withdraw by the
due date, you will be fined and unable to play another tournament until
you have paid your fine.

When the first acceptance list came out for the Burundi futures
event, I was about 70th in the “alternates” section. This meant that
there had been enough entries by players around the world to fill the
main and qualifying draws from the time the entries were opened.
However, there are always non-genuine entries in every tournament. Many
world ranked players enter tournaments just to see where they rank
within the main or qualifying draws for that tournament. They will be
doing this for other tournaments around the world on the same dates and
often make the choice of which tournament they’re going to play based on
how their rankings compare to the other entries. Of course, they often
end up choosing a tournament where they’re seeded in the main draw as
opposed to being seeded in the qualifying draw. Their decision is also
very much determined by their financial position. Travelling is very
expensive and they may not always choose to travel into the depths of
Africa. The ATP points might be cheap, but the cost of travel is high.

By the time the entry withdrawal deadline had passed, I was well and
truly in the qualifying round for Burundi. My entry had progressed
steadily throughout the three week period and I was sitting happily
right in the middle of the 32 player qualifying round. The lesson here
is not to be discouraged by being placed on the “alternates” list, the
“withdraws” list had over 200 names on it, many with ATP rankings.

Be prepared

Anybody who has read Brad Gilbert’s book, Winning Ugly, will know the
importance of controlling the things you have control over. Your
equipment should be well stocked. Take at least four rackets and plenty
of string. I am a frequent string breaker so I took about one reel of
string for a two week trip, it was plenty.

If you’re travelling to a less developed country, definitely take
some balls to practice with. In Africa, balls are like hens teeth.
Sometimes practice balls are available from the tournament director but
this proved difficult at times. When I played in Rwanda, I befriended
the head tennis coach at the tournament venue. He had a supply of new
balls ” Wilson US Opens. He charged me US$15 for a three ball can, a
little pricy I thought. Nonetheless I was happy to pay this price, I
sensed he could use the money.

Whilst you can’t control the bounce of a Rwandan clay court, you can
at least ensure you get into the country legally. By this I mean, make
certain you have allowed yourself enough time to get a valid visa. Some
visas are issued to you before you travel, others are issued on arrival
and sometimes a visa may not even be required. If one is required on
arrival, make sure you are aware how much it will cost and what currency
they will accept. Many of the African countries are cash economies and
use the US dollar for visa payments. Your US dollars will need to be
newer rather than older too, they don’t accept old notes (ie. prior to
around year 2000). I saw one guy at the airport in Burundi produce a US
note that looked like it had been washed in a mud pit. God knows what
happened to the poor guy, but I can tell you he didn’t get let in. If
your notes are in good condition, you’ll be fine.

Part of the visa process for Rwanda required a letter of invitation.
The tournament director was issuing these letters via email but for some
reason I had difficulty getting this from him. I tried numerous times
to contact him through email and via the phone but it took forever.
Eventually it did come but by that stage it was too late. Fortunately,
knowing how Africa works, I had been able to get another letter of
invitation from a completely unrelated source. A friend of mine had done
some business in the country before and had a contact who was able to
send me a letter. This is a very valuable lesson I can teach you – you
always need a back up plan in Africa.

Additionally, depending on where you’re headed, you may need a series of vaccines. You might choose to vaccinate yourself against things like Hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever, rabies, tetanus or malaria either out of safety, visa requirement s or both. When I travelled to Rwanda, it was a requirement that I present a yellow fever vaccination certificate on arrival. I was also required to show this certificate when I returned to Australia. Who would have thought scoring your first ATP point might involve an injection?

Playing the game

My 25 years experience in playing tennis has brought me to understand what I believe are the three most important facets to playing the game well. These are your physical fitness, tennis specific training, and probably most importantly, mind training.

ATP point Rwanda

Continue reading about scoring your first ATP point in the second part ATP Point – Part 2.

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