IMG/Bollettieri Academy

How to Become a Professional Tennis Player

This week, director/producer of the tennis documentary “The Journeymen” and now tennis coach Mark Keil’s weekly column on tennis discusses how to become a professional tennis player:

There really is no wrong or right way to become a professional tennis player but there is some sort of receipe on trying to make it on the tour. First, I must define what “making” it as a professional player means. Different people use various ways to determine if a player can be called an actual professional player. I feel it is all relative; it all boils down to each player’s specific goals.

To me, a player “making” it as a professional if he or she can make more prize money on the tour than actual expenses of being a player. A player who wants attempt the tour must have been playing tennis for many years, usually starting at around 5 or 6 years old. The player must have started competing in junior events before reaching 10 years old, but this theory can be thrown out the window by the Williams sisters. They rarely competed in any junior tournaments; they just trained extensively, signed with a major tennis agency, got wildcards into pro events, and then they started winning matches. But they are the exception, not the rule.

Going to a tennis academy at a young age is one way a young player can learn the game and play against the best kids in the world. A young player who can compete and obtain an ITF junior world ranking might have a shot, but living a normal life at home and practicing after school can also yield results.

A player must compete as often as possible; gettting a national ranking is a minimal qualification to go on to the next level, which is, 90% of the time, college. If a player can compete at a high level in college, and most importantly, continues improving, that is a good sign that it is a good idea to give the tour at least a shot in the summers between semesters at school. It’s easy to play collegiate matches in front of a home crowd, but the best player will come out at a Futures event in some faraway land and have some success.

If the player has a decent ITF junior or collegiate ranking, he or she should try the Futures Tour. All of this requires significant finances, so obtaining a sponsor is almost a must in this day of making it. The sponsors are usually family, good friends, or occasionally come from making a business plan and soliciting people you know to invest in your future. A player needs to raise a minimum of $50,000 a year for a minimum of 3 years to be realistic in making the top 100 in singles or top 50 in doubles.

A player must at least try to make it for two to three years. It rarely happens quickly, and a player must expect to be on the road a minimum of 35-40 weeks a year in order to move up in the world rankings. I think a player should try the tour if he or she has a top 50 division 1 collegiate ranking or top 30 ITF junior world ranking. Upon graduation from college, or a top 30 ITF junior ranking, the player should turn professional and give it a shot. The player’s collegiate or ITF junior ranking should be enough to gain entry into open qualifying draws of Futures, which are the entry level tournaments on the tour.

I don’t think it really matters that much if a player attempts to make it at 21 or 22 years old. They say the average career of a tennis professional is 7 years, no matter when they start. Plus, having a college degree will give the player some job security.

A player must be based in a place where a lot of professionals train such as Saddlebrook Resort or IMG/Bollettieri Academy. A player surrounded by fellow players in a positive training atmosphere will force very hard work. Having a coach is a plus, but not a necessity at the early stages of the career, but if a player can return home and work with somebody, it will be beneficial. It is almost impossible to get a sponsor to pay not only for expenses but also for a traveling coach.

Good luck and go for it!!

Until next week, take care.

The Journeyman