2017 ITF Pro Circuit Wake Forest Futures at Wake Forest University

The USA F19 Futures, the first of two back-to-back $25,000 ITF Pro Circuit Futures tournaments, is being held at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex this week. As with the previous two years, we are providing the stringing. And already some notable differences are emerging.

The stringing so far is down considerably. Last year we did 22 rackets on site Friday, in advance of the first round of qualifying, and held over 9 rackets to be strung Saturday morning ahead of play. So, 31 total rackets before the first round of qualifying. This year I did only 14 rackets Friday with none held over, and 3 rackets came in Saturday morning for matches. So, 17 total rackets.

2016 Day 2: I strung another 22 rackets. 2017 Day 2: 10 rackets.

So, through the first two days in 2016 our total was 53 rackets. Our two day total for 2017 is just 24 rackets.

In 2016, 15 of 52 players in the first round qualifying had rackets strung on site (29%). This year, a smaller number in a larger draw (13 of 64) had rackets strung for the first round (20%).

The success rates of those who had rackets strung this year is not what it was last year either. In 2016, 11 of the 15 guys who strung for the first round of qualifying won (73%). Only two players who had rackets strung for their matches lost to someone who did not have a racket strung on site.

In 2017, the record of the 13 players who had rackets strung on site for their first matches was 7 wins and 6 losses (54% success rate).

Of course, these are only two data points and even then they only tell part of the story. Players can have their rackets professionally strung at home or off-site, of course. But as someone who believes that stringing matters, I like to see what the data (even if incomplete) show.

One additional variable this year is an increase in our charge for stringing. For the first two years of the tournament, we charged $16 a racket, which I thought was more than fair for the quality of service we provided. Especially hearing players complain about the poor quality of stringing at other Futures events where they were being charged for $20 a racket. In respect of our own time and effort and the quality provided, we went to $20 this year. Once the main draw players arrive, we’ll see how elastic stringing prices are. I hope we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot economically!

Semi-Final Saturday at Winston-Salem Futures

We are down to four players here at the ITF Pro Circuit/USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series Winston-Salem Futures. As each of the semi-finalists only strings one racket a day, It’s going to be slow here for me today and tomorrow.

Yesterday, Georgia Bulldog Emil Reinberg’s Cinderella story came to an end in a tough 3 set lost to top seed Sekou Bangoura. It will be interesting to watch his progress as the summer goes along.

People used to say — and I actually still say — that John McEnroe and anyone is the world’s best doubles team. Virginia’s Thai-Son Kwiatkowski is staking a claim for that title on the Futures circuit,having won the Charlottesville Futures doubles crown last week with his teammate Mac Styslinger and teaming up with recent Illinois grad Jared Hiltzik to win the doubles this week.

Hiltzik and Kwiatkowski

In the singles, there were no upsets in yesterday’s quarterfinals, and four seeds have made it through to the semis:

  • Sekou Bangoura – Current #271 — Age 24 — Career high singles ranking: 271
  • Darian King – Current #274 – Age 24 — Career high singles ranking: 193
  • Peter Polansky – Current #363 — Age 28 — Career high singles ranking: 122
  • Alex Kuznetsov – Current #399 – Age 29 — Career high singles ranking: 120

Although only one of the four played college tennis — Bangoura at Florida — their ages show that there are many years of professional tennis to be played for those who choose to play college tennis.

Dealing with Bad Stringing on Tour

I have been fortunate enough to string a variety of different tournaments, from the ATP 500 Citi Open in Washington, DC to the USTA 12s National Clay Courts in Winston-Salem to USTA Adult League tournaments, and various points in between.

One commonality across all levels of play is the badly strung tennis rackets I see coming into the stringing rooms.

Racket brought to stringing room at ATP 250 Winston-Salem Open

Racket brought to stringing room at ATP 250 Winston-Salem Open

I have seen a Top 50 players come to Washington from South America with distorted frames. A player at the ATP 250 Winston-Salem Open complaining about the inconsistent stringing they got at other 250s in Europe. One year a Wake Forest player had his rackets strung at the Edwardsville Futures with the monofilament mains and synthetic gut crosses reversed. I see junior players’ rackets with misweaves, and rackets with “free” stringing from Tennis Warehouse (which allegedly employs USRSA Master Racquet Technicians) with loose knots and crooked strings (sometimes you get what you pay for).

Bad stringing is so common that I started a “stringing and racket fails” album on my Flickr site.

Reversed mains and crosses at the Edwardsville Futures

Reversed mains and crosses at the Edwardsville Futures

Having written about the difficult economics of the entry level of professional tennis, I find it particularly offensive to hear about guys playing ITF Pro Circuit Futures events and paying $20 a racket for substandard stringing.

Rubin Statham experienced this first hand. In his first year on tour he and his brother spent some $17,000 on stringing and found the quality of stringing, especially in Asia, abysmal (my term, not his).

To say that necessity is the mother of invention is a cliché, but like all clichés there is an element of truth in it.

Statham’s need for good quality, consistent, and affordable stringing led him to design and bring to market what he claims is the world’s smallest and lightest stringing machine: the Pro Stringer Platinum. At 4 pounds and fitting in a small bag, I have no reason to doubt him.

Pro Stringer Platinum

I met Statham this week at the ITF Pro Circuit Winston-Salem Futures and he let me give his Pro Stringer a try. In my next post, I will give my review of it.


Chasing (and Catching) Ranking Points on the ITF Pro Circuit

The singles quarterfinals are set at the ITF Pro Circuit Winston-Salem Futures. 5 seeds and 2 qualifiers are among the 8. The two qualifiers are Rhyne Williams, whose career high ATP ranking is 114, and Emil Reinberg, a rising sophomore at the University of Georgia who earned his first ATP ranking points this week.

Each of the quarterfinalists have earned 3 ATP World Tour ranking points, and 5 additional points are on the line for tomorrow’s winners. The finalist will earn 15 points total and the winner takes home 27 points.

ITF Pro Circuit Points

To put those points in context, consider the number of points held by players at different ranking levels:

  • #1 Novak Djokovic: 16,950 points
  • #50 Martin Klizan: 925
  • #100 Sergiy Stakhovsky: 590
  • #250 Joris DeLoore: 270
  • #500 Evgeny Karlovskiy: 71
  • #1000 Pavel Kotov: 12

Depending on the number of tournaments played, 3 ranking points will land you anywhere from #1395 to #1530. 1 ranking point is world ranking #1723.

So, at the high end of the ranking scale, ITF Pro Circuit points don’t count as much as at the lower end of the scale. But winning a futures event can still make a big difference in a professional’s life.

It has been interesting to see these current and aspiring professional tennis players chase — and sometimes catch — valuable ATP World Tour ranking points this week. It’s a lot different than the other two professional events I will string this summer (the ATP 500 event in Washington DC in July and the ATP 250 event in Winston-Salem in August), but no less dramatic.

The Long, Hard Road of the ITF Pro Circuit Qualifier

7 of 16 first round main draw singles matches were played yesterday at the ITF Pro Circuit/USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series $25,000 Winston-Salem Futures.

4 of the 14 competitors playing had come through qualifying to get in the main draw: Daniel Manlow (GBR), Emil Reinberg (USA), Aron Hiltzik (USA), and Austin Smith (USA). That means they already played and won matches Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – in 90+ degree temperatures – just to get into the main draw.

For winning 3 matches, the 8 qualifiers earned a minimum of $260 (first round main draw losers prize money) and accumulated at least 5 days worth of expenses.

ITF Pro Circuit Money Distribution

In today’s first round, 2 of the 4 qualifiers won their matches: Reinberg and Hiltzik. This brought their prize money up to at least $430.

Of course, as valuable to Reinberg and Hiltzik as the prize money is the real prize: ATP RANKING POINTS. By winning 4 matches, they both earned 1 ranking point.

ITF Pro Circuit Points

Sadly, despite winning 3 qualifying matches, Manlow and Smith both earned 0 ranking points.

There is also the “luck of the draw” lurking in all of this. Austin Smith drew the #4 seed and world #334 Michael Mmoh in the first round (and battled him to a 5-7, 6-4, 5-7 score line), while Hiltzik drew world #781 Mico Santiago.

And let’s not forget about the “lucky loser.” Nathan Ponwith got up early to sign in after losing in the final round of qualifying to Aron Hiltzik. He made the main draw when Aleksandar Vukic withdrew and plays #7 seed Alex Kuznetsov Wednesday.

In the second set of first round singles matches to be played Wednesday, the other 4 qualifiers will play. Zeke Clark drew the #3 seed Tennys Sandgren. Korey Lovett will play recent Wake Forest graduate and wild card Jon Ho. And the other two qualifers drew each other: Dominik Koepfer and Rhyne Williams. So, at least 3 of the 8 qualifiers will play in round 2 of the tournament and get their slightly bigger paycheck and their ranking point payoff.