Bag Check: $25K Pro Circuit Winston-Salem Futures

At last year’s $15k Winston-Salem Futures, three racket companies dominated among the players. Together, Babolat, Head, and Wilson accounted for 81% of all the rackets I strung (recall not all players in the tournament strung with me).

WS Futures Rackets

At this year’s tournament, I saw much the same in the stringing room in terms of overall market share by the big 3, but a different ranking within them:

  1. Wilson – 45%
  2. Babolat – 34%
  3. Head and Yonex – 6% each
  4. Prince – 4%
  5. Tecnifibre and Pro Kennex – 2% each (i.e., one racket)

Babolat remained steady at 1/3 of rackets (same as last year), but Wilson overtook Babolat as the #1 racket, riding the success of the Blade.

I am really surprised to see Head not making more inroads with Djokovic and Murray as key endorsers and the Prestige being a classic player’s frame, but perhaps the overabundance of American players in the tournament (and paucity of Europeans) explains Head’s low numbers.

It’s good to see more male players using Yonex. I used to sell Yonex rackets and they were far superior to the big 3 in my opinion. The rise of Wawrinka and Kyrigos to replace Hewitt and Nalbandian is good for the company.

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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.

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.

ITF Pro Circuit / USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series Winston-Salem Futures

Racket stringing, even in a tournament situation, is a lot like the movie “Ground Hog Day” (where Bill Murray gets trapped in a reality in which every day he wakes up and repeats the previous day).

Take racket in, cut strings out, mount frame, set tension, install strings, stencil . . . repeat . . . repeat . . . repeat . . . 10 or 20 or 30 or N times.

USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series

This week I am back stringing at the ITF Pro Circuit USA F18 Futures of Winston-Salem, which has been upgraded from a $15K to a $25K event as part of the USTA Pro Circuit Collegiate Series.

Last year was the first time I strung a futures level tournament, so I wrote quite a few blog posts about the experience.

I especially enjoyed working for and getting to know last year’s winner Matija Pecotic, in no small part because he appreciates the importance of what good stringing brings to the competitive table. I was happy to see that he rode the success he had in Winston-Salem to a career high ATP World Tour ranking of #206 near the end of 2015.

Pecotic

I’m not sure (yet) who will be this year’s Matija Pecotic, but I do have some observations about the stringing so far.

Of the 52 players in the first round of qualifying, only 15 had rackets strung on-site (less than 30%). However, of those 15 players, 11 won their matches (a .773 winning percentage).

Of the 4 who lost, 2 lost to players who also had their rackets strung. So, ignoring those 4, of 11 the players who had rackets strung on site and played guys who did not have rackets strung, 9 won their first round qualifying matches – a .818 winning percentage.

Of course, correlation does not equal causation. Did they play better because they had their rackets strung for the match, or do they have their rackets strung because they are better players? I don’t have data to answer that, and I’m not sure any professional tennis player would want to be part of a controlled experiment to find out.

But I do know what people for whom money is not an issue do to maximize their performance: they play matches with freshly strung rackets.

I understand the economics of tennis don’t permit every player to use professional stringing services every day. I have been on the paying end of junior tennis and am still recovering from it (I don’t string rackets for fun). And I wrote about the tough economic realities of a $15K futures event last year.

But the cliché “penny wise, pound foolish” exists for a reason. The only part of a tennis player’s equipment that is supposed to touch the ball is the strings.