Leveling the playing field: The UTR Pro Tennis Tour helps aspiring professional tennis players follow their dreams

Leveling the playing field: The UTR Pro Tennis Tour helps aspiring professional tennis players follow their dreams

9 min read

To say ‘making it as a professional tennis player is difficult’ is a huge understatement. Not only does an athlete need to have the required physical, technical, tactical, and mental skills to be able to compete with the world’s best, they also need the opportunity and financial backing to wade through the lower ranks to rise to a position of financial stability.

Tennis is known to have some of the highest levels of inequality in any sport, where “highly ranked players, both men and women, can earn significant prize money, while those ranked between 200 and 2,000 earn almost nothing.” Given that the average player ranked 1,000 earns around $1,000–$2,000 per year through tournaments, starting and maintaining a professional career seems like an even more daunting prospect. Those figures don’t even account for the cost of travel, accommodation, training, coaching, and equipment for a year—which can amount to around $39,000 based on how much an athlete is competing.

"Highly ranked players, both men and women, can earn significant prize money, while those ranked between 200 and 2,000 earn almost nothing."

To combat this dynamic and aid world-class athletes on their journeys, Universal Tennis is proud to create the UTR Pro Tennis Tour (PTT). Designed as a pathway to support aspiring professionals with quality matchplay and the ability to earn prize money, UTR is investing over $20 million to run 450 tournaments over the next three years across the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe. These singles-only events are for men and women with a UTR Rank of 200 to 2000 with an innovative format that includes a round robin followed by a knockout stage that guarantees more matches than other tournaments. Female players must have a UTR of 10.0 or higher and male players 12.5 or higher to be eligible and be outside the top 200.

Playing at the professional level involves traveling to different locations in search of tournaments with prize money, ranking points, and quality competition. But journeying to a new location only to be knocked out of the competition after one match has always been a difficult part of this formula. Players could travel hundreds even thousands of miles to only compete once. The UTR Pro Tennis Tour is off to a fast start with 20 events already completed in 2021. That’s nearly $400,000 distributed to players. As tennis fans with knowledge of the tour structures know, the ability to earn and play at this level is vital to “keep the lights on” and pursuing the dream of a professional career. The UTR Pro Tennis Tour has already experienced a significant success story with Australian Li Tu (UTR 13.72) being awarded a wildcard into the 2021 Australian Open based upon his performances in UTR Pro Tennis Tour tournaments.

Mesa Mei (UTR 12.77), who competes on the open tournament circuit in France, and has played in five UTR Pro Tennis Tour events in Naples, Florida, Newport Beach, California and Barcelona, Spain, said of UTR’s new tour:

“It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for: guaranteeing high-quality matches and prize money on a consistent basis. This further solidified my opinion that this is the ideal formula for improving as tennis players.”

German player Sabrina Rittberger (UTR 10.06), who was awarded a wildcard into a Barcelona event, also had positive sentiments. Commenting on what she enjoyed about the PTT, Rittberger mentioned, “ I was treated like a ‘real professional both on and off the court. Before and after matches there were more than enough possibilities to practice/warm-up so there was no ‘fight’ for courts, during matches the presence of a referee helped you focus on your performance entirely, and the stringer and physio made a truly professional impression and the organization always helped when it came to individual problems/requests.”

“I was treated like a real professional both on and off the court.”

Praise for the venue and operations of PTT events continues to build as players take notice. Alec Adamson, who played in multiple tournaments in California, was very pleased with the venue in Newport. "The facilities at the event are world-class, with 16 tennis courts in beautiful Newport Beach, California. The UTR events were held on their two stadium courts. It was a pleasure to play at such a nice club." Adamson also noted that the logistics of the event went smoothly, "The referee at the PTT event did a great job with the schedule and working with players' schedules, and provided great communication throughout the events daily."

Mei and Rittberger also enjoyed the quality and quantity of matches offered by the UTR PTT. Mei said:

“By providing week-long match play in a competitive setting, the PTT can eliminate the downtime between events for all players besides those who make the final rounds of a tournament. This further alleviates some of the pressures of a tennis player who may struggle to embrace the travel just to potentially play one match and be done.”

In parallel, Rittberger said: “Competing in a tournament, my goal as a player always is to get as many matches as possible. This is hardly achievable in knockout formats, especially if draws are as strong as right now. The set amount of prize money helps tremendously with covering costs related to traveling and accommodation which is always my #1 financial goal when in a tournament.” Noting that matches are broadcast live, Rittberger added: “The fact that matches are streamed live gives you (and your coach) the possibility to rewatch and analyze your game which is an incredibly helpful starting point for improvements.”

The barrier to ‘making it’ as a professional tennis player has often been financial as opposed to the amount of talent and skill an individual might possess. With the UTR Pro Tennis Tour, UTR aims to live by its ethos of making tennis—even at the professional level—accessible for those of all socio-economic backgrounds. And with a three year financial commitment by Universal Tennis, up-and-coming players no longer have to rely solely on traveling to far away places in search of ranking points only to be knocked out after one match. The UTR Pro Tennis Tour offers a broadened and improved pathway.

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