In professional tennis, the “qualies” (qualifying tournaments prior to the main events) might actually be the toughest test of all. If your ranking is too low or nonexistent, you must usually win two or three matches in the qualies to get into the main draw of an ITF, WTA, or ATP tourney. Those wins come hard. There can easily be three times as many players as places. The qualies are a dog-eat-dog world, filled with hungry, talented young athletes battling to break into the pro game. Officials can be in short supply. The athletes who fight their way through the Wild West of qualie rounds gain admission to the main draw. But, ironically, winning a qualie match typically gets no respect—and no points.
Take the case of Aljaž Bedene
, a young Slovenian player. His story seems, in a way, strange, but it is also “the story of every European junior,” says Aleš Filipčič
of the faculty of sport at the University of Ljubljana
in Slovenia. Filipčič, a former Slovenian Davis Cup captain and the president of Slovenia’s commission for competitive tennis from 1996 to 2014, has run his own academy there since 2010. He has given coaching courses for the ITF. In short, Filipčič has a seasoned grasp of international tennis. He shared Bedene’s saga with UTR to make a point about the difficulties a young, talented player faces at the outset of a pro career.
"UTR is the future."
Bedene played 11 International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments before he collected any ITF ranking points. Again: players who don’t enter an ITF draw via their rankings must typically win three matches in the qualification tournament to access the main draw, where points won will place them in the ITF rankings. Eleven times, the gifted Bedene failed to survive the “qualies,” despite traveling to Croatia, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and other lands to compete. He did
win matches in qualie contests, but none of these wins netted any ITF points. Filipčič explains that, “With UTR
, this would not happen. Those wins would have raised his UTR. And with UTR you don’t need to travel to Africa or Asia. You can play local, regional, or national events in your home country, and every result feeds your rating.”
“In Slovenia, we are well positioned, in mid Europe,” Filipčič explains. “Italy has lots of ITFs, and Hungary and Croatia aren’t far. It’s two hours to Zagreb and four hours to Milan. But people still travel very far to play a few matches.”
Bedene also endured another pitfall of international junior tennis. He had to restart his ranking from zero three times over eight years of competition. Up to age 12, juniors in Europe can win points in national tournaments, but when they turn 13, they start with a blank slate at Tennis Europe events for its 14-and-under rankings. At age 15, they can transfer 25 percent of those points from the 14s to Tennis Europe’s 16s, so don’t need to start anew. However, many begin playing ITF events at ages 15 or 16, and must again hit the reset button, because ITF’s system does not recognize Tennis Europe points. A couple years later, those with pro-tennis aspirations must start all over yet again: ITF points count for nothing with the ATP and WTA.
Now 28, Bedene eventually succeeded in launching a pro career. He’s been based in Great Britain for a few years, and has won five Futures and 14 Challenger singles titles. The ATP has ranked him as high as #45 in singles and #127 in doubles.
“It helped me relax and play more freely, because I knew that ITF points weren’t everything—you had UTR all the time in the background.”
In Malmö, Sweden, Dave Bandelin, the founder and owner of Euroelite Junior Development Centers
, had a 16-year-old boy, Lukas Ridemar
, at his academy. Like Bedene, Ridemar had never won an ITF point, though not from lack of trying. He, too, was winning matches at ITF qualifying rounds, but never making it into the main draw, and was ready to quit. “I’m giving up on ITF tournaments,” he told Bandelin. “I’m going to just stay in Sweden and play here.” But then Bandelin showed Ridemar his UTR. “He didn’t even know he had
a UTR,” Bandelin says. “His UTR profile showed all his matches, and he already had a rating of 11.67, without a single ITF point! Lukas was amazed.” Ridemar says, “It helped me relax and play more freely, because I knew that ITF points weren’t everything—you had UTR all the time in the background.” He is now considering offers from three American colleges—and yes, he has an ITF point.
The head men’s coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Dave Geatz, a good friend of the American-born Bandelin (who’s lived in Sweden for 21 years) introduced his fellow coach to UTR. (Geatz wrote “How to Move Up One UTR Level”
for this website.) “Dave talked to me about this cool way of rating players—boys, girls, men, women—on one scale,” says Bandelin. “I was automatically intrigued. The concept is fantastic. Their algorithm must be mind-boggling, and way past my pay grade. UTR lets you work your way up the ladder, in a global sense. UTR is the future.”
“It makes you fight for every game, and even if you lose the match, you get credit.”
Bandelin’s part-time academy, which he sees as a complement to federations, clubs, and other academies, has 170 players, including Leo Borg, son of Bjorn Borg. (As a 14-year-old, Leo’s highest ranking was as #5 in Europe.) Bandelin says that one of UTR’s benefits is that “it makes you fight for every game, and even if you lose the match, you get credit. One player told me, ‘If I lose 7-6, 7-6, I will get credit for working my ass off. Somebody appreciates all the hard work I did.’"
Many of Bandelin’s athletes hope to play college tennis in the United States. He uses UTR to help them target suitable programs. “I might have a kid look at the #6 player on a college team, for example, whose UTR might be 12.4. I can tell my player, ‘Give it a year, and you’ll be right there.’ They are also excited to see their UTRs going up. One player exclaimed, “I’m being compared not just to the juniors in my own country, but to everybody in the world.'”
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