Tournament Imbalances in an Unprecedented Era
I still remember the week the ITF finally pulled the plug on tournaments during the first wave of the pandemic. It was late February/early March and there were players rushing out of Cancun frantically trying to get prize money and close their bills. All while some referees were suspending matches while ordering others to finish.
No one knew whether they would get points for what round or how the distribution of money would work. No one knew that the structure of tournaments, rankings, and playing opportunities would completely change.
It was confusing then but it is still confusing now. Due to injury and personal choice, I waited to play during the pandemic. This had pushed my ranking down from 1150 to 1400 with the same amount of points. Why? Because many had retired yet we were all keeping our points from two years. And for those who kept playing it would be a great way to try and climb the ranks.
For me, it would be a big setback in some ways.
Byes In WTAs
Towards the end of 2021 fans and players were seeing something unusual. There were byes in the qualifying of WTAs where girls ranked in the 600s were placed as seeds. Girls without any ranking at all didn’t even need a WC into the event. A chance most would kill for.
But where was everyone?
This was one of the side effects of trying to play the tour in a pandemic where nearly every country has its own set of rules and qualifications to abide by. Many of these tournaments with byes ended up taking place in South America.
Unprecedented Strong ITF Tour
Predicting what events to play for anyone outside the top 200 is becoming increasingly hard. While there were byes in WTAs during the end of 2021, Europe saw their indoor 25ks as strong as they have ever been. In fact, most of the 25ks were stronger than the WTAs with main draw cutoffs of around 300 in the world.
Why is this happening? With the pandemic providing such financial insecurity for many players outside the top 100, the ITF tour became the solution for them. There are two major reasons for this. The first is that it is financially much more affordable. The possibility of staying in the same area or even back-to-back tournaments is much more appealing. The second is it’s a way to keep their ranking as the points are high enough and the competition is not as stiff as the WTA (most of the time).
With most of the 15ks being converted into 25ks right now, we still see players 200 in the world playing the second-lowest “challenger tour” level on the women’s side. We have players ranked 60 WTA to 100 WTA occupying the main draws of 60ks because that is the best option for them.
The consequences for the near future will be for those beyond the 500 ranking to predict where they can play. With a withdrawal deadline no more than 9 days before the sign-in, this is leaving much of the tour frantic trying to acquire visas and the money to travel last minute. Worse, it’s forcing many to retire.
Until the WTA returns to full swing and more tournaments are added such as 15ks we will continue to see an imbalance in the tournament structure, entry lists, and rankings. Because adding 15ks is simply not worth the points or time for higher-ranked players it can return as an option for lower-ranked. With so many of these being converted to 25ks a group of players is being left out.