The ATP announced changes to the Challenger Tour last September with a largely positive reception, though with some skeptics, such as former No. 125 Noah Rubin, questioning how they will be executed.
Someone else dubious about the implementation of the changes is German Davis Cup player Yannick Hanfmann.
“I’ll believe it when I see it. More money is always nice on paper but I want to see how the actual tournaments will be spread out and I hope we get a lot of playing opportunities of course. I cannot really say much, everything looks nice on paper but I hope it’s also going to be nice,” said the World No. 140.
What are the changes to the Challenger Tour and what do the players think?
The 2023 Challenger Tour changes, or “enhancements,” as the ATP presented them, are bringing in a re-work of the tournament categories we see on the tour. Rather than the current options of Challenger 50, 80, 90, 100, 110, and 125, the ATP has chosen to simplify the core categories into Challenger 50, 75, 100, and 125. Hand in hand with this change also comes a 170% increase in Challenger 100 and 125 tournaments, ensuring that we will see the bigger events more often, as Challenger 80 events accounted for more than two-thirds of all tournaments. A 170% increase in Challenger 100 and 125 events means that they should account for almost half of all Challengers next season compared to 19.5% this year.
Former No. 49 Illya Marchenko is a part of a Challenger player group that the ATP consulted for the changes.
“They put the group together this year, creating a new department and budget for the Challenger Tour under the new management. We will see how it is next year but I believe it will get better, they showed me a calendar for Q1 of next season, and out of 50 Challengers, only 12 will be on clay, so that makes me very happy,” the Ukrainian laughed.
“We told them the issues that were there this year, such as the number of clay tournaments we had compared to hard courts, the number of Challenger 80s compared to 100s and 125s, and they promised to change it for next year. The calendar they showed me reflected those changes.”
A new category has also been created, with three Challenger 175 tournaments coming to the tour next season. They will be held in the second weeks of Indian Wells, Rome, and Madrid Masters 1000, giving an opportunity to players who lost in early rounds and qualifying to earn more points.
The Prize Money
The ATP also announced a 60% increase in prize money, rising from $13.2 million in 2022 to a record $21.1 million in 2023. This prize money will come from not only the new Challenger 175 events but also a systematic increase in the Challenger 100 category events as opposed to the former Challenger 80 category.
Marton Fucsovics, Hungary’s No. 1 who dropped down to the Challenger level to get back in the Top 100, supports the changes:
“I think it’s a very good idea and tennis needs these improvements because these guys that are 200-300 in the rankings, they can play the same level as Top 100 guys and they deserve more money,” said the former No. 31.
After winning Bratislava to re-enter the Top 100 and securing an Australian Open main draw spot, Fucsovics also left Canberra the champion in week 1, climbing to No. 73 in the rankings.
Tomas Machac, a four-time Challenger champion at the age of 22 also believes a prize money increase was crucial:
“I think it is good that they are upping the prize money and tournaments. It is very difficult to play the Challenger Tour and keep breaking even. When you take a coach with you, which you have to do as a part of a professional approach in my view, then you’re happy just to break even financially. Especially now, the flights got more expensive, everything got more expensive, so I’m glad that we have this financial help coming,” said the Czech.
The calendar for the first three months of the 2023 Challenger Tour is now available, including the season’s first cancellation, with week 4’s Challenger 75 in Columbus no longer going ahead.
The ATP has followed through with the increase in Challenger 100s as 12 are scheduled compared to just two in the first quarter of last season. Challenger 75s should be the most common events with 19 on the schedule but it is still a very important step.
The first Challenger 175 will be the Arizona Tennis Classic, beginning on March 13th in Phoenix, AZ. The tournament was already among the most prestigious Challenger 125s in past seasons, having the World No. 1 team of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic there last year and getting World No. 21 at the time David Goffin as their No. 1 seed in the event’s inaugural edition in 2019.
Sustainability in tennis for lower-ranked players has been an issue for a long time and while we are still far from a solution, the ATP has taken an important first step in making tennis a viable career for players outside the Top 100.
Main Photo from Getty.