New Tennis Series Seeks to Improve Pathway to the Pros

In a move expected to significantly increase opportunities for developing American tennis players, Oracle, the computer technology compan...

In a move expected to significantly increase opportunities for developing American tennis players, Oracle, the computer technology company, intends to create and fund a large circuit of lower-tier professional tournaments in the United States.

The circuit, which will be called the Oracle Pro Series and begin in full next year, will comprise approximately 25 new women’s tournaments and 25 new men’s tournaments.

Most will be staged as combined events, many of them on college campuses. Prize money is expected to range from $25,000 to $108,000 per tournament. All of the tournaments will provide ATP or WTA ranking points, which are critical to players attempting to make the leap to the main tours.

There have been major concerns and conflicts in the last year over how to organize tennis’ minor leagues. The International Tennis Federation introduced a revamped tour this year that was intended to streamline the system, reduce the total pool of lower-tier professional players and make it more straightforward for the best juniors to make the transition to the professional game.

But amid widespread protest from players and coaches, the I.T.F. had to backtrack in order to restore playing opportunities.

The concern about the route to the professional ranks was part of the inspiration for the new Oracle series, said Jim Courier, a former No. 1 whose company InsideOut Sports & Entertainment will manage the series for Oracle.

“This is intended above all to help the pathway for players in the United States,” Courier said in an interview at the United States Open. “In Europe, they have tournaments every week all over the continent at various levels for men and women. There are pockets in the American schedule where that is not the case. This is intended to fill those in.”

Seven of the new combined events will be held later this year in California, Texas and Florida.

Four will take place on university campuses, including Baylor in Waco, Tex., where Mark Hurd, Oracle’s chief executive, played tennis on a scholarship in the 1970s. The rest of the series events, at locations to be determined, will begin in 2020, and Courier said that Oracle had made a three-year commitment to back the new series.

College players were among those who complained most vociferously about the I.T.F. tour changes, and the new Oracle events could also alleviate some of the financial demands on players based in the United States. (The tournaments will also be open to international players.)

“It’s a big challenge for players not in the big leagues to break even,” Courier said. “We’re trying to be sensitive about putting back-to-back tournaments in similar locations. The idea is not to make players crisscross the country.”

Courier compared it to the system in Italy, which added many lower-level tournaments in recent years.

“It allows players to play at low cost at home, and you’ve seen a big surge in young Italian men’s players,” Courier said.

The United States Tennis Association already operates a significant number of minor-league men’s and women’s professional events: 113 in 2019, according to Stacey Allaster, the U.S.T.A.’s chief executive for professional tennis.

If the Oracle Pro Series functions as planned, it will increase the total to approximately 160 such events. Allaster said that Oracle and InsideOut Sports had consulted regularly with the U.S.T.A. to avoid creating conflicts with existing events.

“It’s a win-win for our American players, especially those players in that ranking band of 200 to 500,” Allaster said. “And if these events are on college campuses, that has a direct benefit to the college players, as well.”

Larry Ellison, Oracle’s billionaire founder, owns the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., a men’s and women’s event that is one of the most prestigious combined professional tournaments outside the four Grand Slam events.

Oracle created a Challenger Series about two years ago, four combined men’s and women’s tournaments that give the top two American finishers in the series a wild card into the BNP Paribas Open.

Courier’s company also operates a circuit of senior professional events known as the Invesco Series QQQ, which includes former stars like Pete Sampras and Andy Roddick. Courier said some of the senior events would be staged in conjunction with the new Oracle tournaments, in an effort to add star power. Entry for spectators will be free.

“It’s a chance to promote the sport,” Courier said. “There are some very good tennis players who are not yet known names.

“But these are the kinds of tournaments that people like Coco Gauff and Caty McNally have been playing very recently, and that everyone comes through at some point in their career,” Courier added, referring to the American teenagers who recently won matches at the U.S. Open.

Noah Rubin, an American player ranked No. 195, has explored the challenges of succeeding in professional tennis in his series, “Behind the Racquet” on Instagram. He said he thought the new Oracle circuit could be beneficial.

“In a country as large as the U.S.A., you always wonder why there aren’t more tournaments, and this seems to be a push in the right direction,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “But I always have a little bit of the cynic’s view. If you want to be putting that much money into tennis, I feel you should be using it in other ways as well.

Rubin said the game might be better served by improving conditions, promotion and prize money at existing events.

“Quality over quantity,” he said. “There is a benefit to having quantity as well, I understand that, but at the same time I’m playing a lot of these tournaments, and it doesn’t feel we are getting the respect we deserve."

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Newsrust: New Tennis Series Seeks to Improve Pathway to the Pros
New Tennis Series Seeks to Improve Pathway to the Pros
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