Life on the ITF Tour: A week at ITF Sunderland

Clara Tauson
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There are 128 players in the draw at Grand Slam tournaments. The upcoming Sunshine Double of Indian Wells and Miami have 96 in the main draw. Most ATP and WTA tour events have much smaller fields than this. Yet over 2,000 men and 2,000 women that currently have senior rankings, and many more that play without a ranking. The ITF Tour is where they reside.

The vast majority of these players will never play on the main tour and will probably never play in front of what may be considered a crowd. Yet the talent on the ITF tour is surprisingly deep and the quality of some of the matches is high.

Life on the ITF Tour is totally different to life for the players in the Top 50 in the world. Those players know that they will be able to afford hotels, travel and a coaching team. The players I watched today at ITF Sunderland were literally playing for their livelihoods. It certainly gave the tennis an edge that was palpable.

Life on the ITF Tour

Where is Sunderland and who is there?

ITF Sunderland is the closest professional tennis event to me. Sunderland is in the north east of England, about 20km south of Newcastle on the coast of the North Sea. It has hosted ITF events for a number of years as there is a National Tennis Centre there with eight indoor courts. Perfect for a professional tennis event in February in the North East of England, certainly can’t play outside at this time!

There are two tournaments running simultaneously at the venue, a men’s draw and a women’s draw with both singles and doubles involved. The category of the tournaments are M25 and W25, which means that both tournaments have a prize fund of $25,000. This is split across all players who win at least one qualifying match at the tournament, so even winning the tournament isn’t exactly a lottery win.

Even so, the tournaments in Sunderland have attracted quite the interesting entry lists. The highest-ranked player across the draws is Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova, currently ranked #143 in the WTA ranking list. In fact, the women’s draw features twelve players ranked within the top 300 in the world. Denmark’s Clara Tauson, currently ranked #261, was last year’s junior Australian Open champion and has already won six senior ITF titles. This includes the one that immediately preceded this Sunderland tournament, in Glasgow last week.

The men’s draw doesn’t boast quite the high rankings, but there are some interesting players all the same. Top seed is the exceptionally talented, but injury-prone, German Jeremy Jahn (#286). Former world #52 Igor Sijsling is the third seed and following him in the seedings is the young Briton Jack Draper. Draper reached the junior Wimbledon final in 2018 and since then has won six senior ITF titles and has now reached #318 in the ATP rankings.

A different side to professional tennis

Last Word On Tennis will be on-site on all week to experience the goings-on at an ITF tournament. We hope to be able to bring you an interesting perspective on a different side of life in professional tennis.

Stay tuned to the website for daily updates from the tournament and some special features, including interviews with key people such as administrators, officials, coaches and the players themselves.

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