The Aussie tennis pathway has been a stepping stone for our athletes of all levels of tennis, however the most interesting is the one leading juniors to the pro tour.
It is well known that Australians love to compete on the world stage, and that the dream for all young Aussie players is to turn pro. However, how does the pathway we have set in place for our juniors, teens, and collegiate players to go pro compare to our fierce competition, the United States?
This is a very intriguing and complex question worthy of a lengthy read. As a matter of fact, the US has always set a standard that countries worldwide have tried to emulate when it comes to producing tennis players and professionals.
However, the focus of the US tennis pathway has shifted dramatically in the past decade, focusing the junior pathway toward collegiate tennis first rather than the professional pathway
straight from junior-level tennis.
I will break down the American tennis pathway that leads juniors to the pros, and find the differences in our own that set each apart in an attempt to find ways we can improve our pathway.
To begin with, American juniors have a slightly different stepping stone and journey to the pros compared to us here in Australia. From a very young age, the focus in America is geared toward school sports.
The US prides itself on student-athletes, so even from a primary school age, public and private schools have top tennis facilities and tennis training programs offered to students free of charge.
This is a massive discrepancy in Australia as many of our schools do not even have tennis courts. The American school system provides coaches, a team, and designated training hours
after or before school as well as competitions that mimic the collegiate tennis scene.
They have regional and national tournaments that branch out of this similar to what we have in the Pizzey Cup for example here at home, but the key difference is the sheer support that students are offered from their schools from a young age as a stepping stone.
Obviously with a pathway out of schools similar to college teams and college tennis, college recruiters and coaches often visit top schools and competitions to scout for future athletes. Australians typically have to go through agencies and make videos to connect with coaches, whilst the process is much more streamlined for American athletes.
The streamlined process for American players helps them have a clear plan of college first then Pro tennis with the implementation of UTR-based events such as the PTT tour and also now events that grant collegiate players ATP points on the men's side.
Funding and support are also rampant as we are seeing players such as Danielle Collins and Ben Shelton making waves after the college scene. The pathway is made clear where from primary school Americans know what they want when it comes to college then pro tennis.
For Australians however, the college pathway can be seen as a sort of plan B for many players when it comes to first trying to go pro, or having an unclear path of getting there.
Furthermore, the competition scene in terms of tournaments is drastically shifting on both the Australian and American tennis scene. The implementation of US-based UTR has meant that ranking systems and tournaments have changed from points to a rating-based system.
However, there is still a very strong base in USTA and Tennis Australia tournaments that form the foundation for both the American and Australian competition pathways. Both pathways include junior tournaments of varying levels for the 10/u, 12/u, 14/u, 16/u, and 18/u levels as well as adult circuit levels and tournaments from levels 7-1 in terms of strength.
UTR PTT tournaments are also providing players a step into the pro tour with prize-level events where entry is based upon rating not ranking, meaning players with less means to travel can have the opportunity to play and enter these tournaments and earn money as well.
There isn’t a large discrepancy between Australia and America when it comes to opportunities
for competitions leading from junior regional to state and national events. The ITF tour and futures events however are where we can identify a big difference as well in the amount of UTR PTT tournaments.
America has a lot more of these tournaments which allow players the opportunity to earn points, better their rating as well as earn money domestically. Many Australian juniors are forced to travel far and wide internationally due to our isolated position to play the same amount of tournaments that the American players can play without leaving the country. This is a big downfall to our beautiful country.
It takes a lot of time and money to travel to the US and Europe where the majority of events to enter the Pro tour are played, greatly disadvantaging Aussie players. More events, prize money, and access to international players with better exposure are all advantages that our American counterparts have compared to us.
Furthermore, I need to explore one final key aspect of player pathways - the pathway of training, funding, and player support. In Australia, each state has a different support system for its players under the banner of Tennis Australia.
State squads, training sessions, funding, and traveling differ from state to state. Some states have squads where 12 players in an age group train, play, and travel together.
Other states focus on one or two players and specifically give only them various benefits. Most top juniors therefore either have support and backing when it comes to training, fitness, etc from Tennis Australia or has private coaches that they exclusively train with.
The USTA also provides training and sponsorship for high-performance players however players usually always have a variety of different coaching and training locations and a variety of people in their entourage.
Private coaches combine with National training centers and squads as well as often summer
or winter stints in top tennis academies such as Nick Bolletierri, Evert Tennis Academy, Rick Macci Tennis Academy, and John McEnroe Tennis Academy being the most popular.
This diversity when it comes to tennis-specific training, fitness, and also mental training means that players in the US are exposed to more when it comes to developing their game. Also, many top juniors in their later high school years complete an entirely virtual or online education. This enables them to concentrate on tennis and work around their tennis schedule when it comes to completing their education.
There are very few such options in Australia, but in the US there are both private and public institutions that provide online education. Many of these are connected to the top academies I talked about. This allows for less stress in balancing both tennis and school for juniors, for those that prefer to train away from their school institution.
In conclusion, there are a few discrepancies when it comes to the tennis pathway between Australia and the US. In stating all this, it is imperative to realize that there is a lot we can do to implement better opportunities and a better pathway for Aussie juniors to go pro. Diversity and depth in training, opportunity, and competition are imperative.
Our pathway has a lot of positives, but by learning from the US as well as other countries with top players across the globe we can make an even better pathway to get more top Aussie juniors to go pro.