ATP increasing prize money on Challenger Tour
The ATP announced Monday widespread changes to its Challenger Tour in a move designed to streamline the sport at lower levels and make it easier for more players to earn a living from tennis.
Starting in 2019, draw sizes will be increased from 32 to 48 at all events, with all players earning prize money, getting ATP ranking points and receiving free accommodations to cut costs.
The ATP said the moves will double the number of players who can make a living.
"We want to have more players earn more money and have less expense and to be able to earn a living, not only if you're top 100 or 150," Ross Hutchins, the chief player officer of the ATP Tour, told ESPN. "We want to really expand it out to 250 to 300 players earning a good living and not having huge expense costs. That's our longer-term goal over a five-year plan."
Though only a few ranking points will be awarded at the upper end of the top Futures events in 2019, starting in 2020, ATP points will be awarded at the Challenger Tour level and above.
An extra $1 million in prize money will be added to the tour, which will be increased by 10 to 15 events to a total of around 185 by 2020. The tournaments will be rebranded as ATP Challenger 70, 80, 95, 110 and 125, according to the prize-money levels.
The ATP said the changes were made in close consultation with the ITF, working alongside its Transition Tour. Players who do not have an ATP ranking can earn ITF world-ranking points on the Transition Tour. Success there will enable them to earn spots in ATP Challengers.
Though qualifying at each Challenger will be reduced to four players, three of whom will be taken from the ITF Transition Tour, Hutchins said the increased draw sizes will mean around 2,400 more "job opportunities" for players.
"All matches will be played for points and money and have hospitality [free accommodation]," Hutchins said. "Currently, in qualifying for Challengers, there is no hospitality and no money to be earned. We are basically saying a lot of those matches will be in the main draw.
"It actually works out that there will be more main-draw opportunities, even if you add in the [old] qualifying as well."
The reduction in qualifying means each Challenger will now be played over seven days, from Monday to Sunday, a move intended to increase the ability of players who reach the latter stages of one event to play another the following week.
The two qualifying matches will now be played on Monday, and the main draw will run to Sunday. All matches on the Challenger Tour will be streamed live, Hutchins said.
Wild cards and qualifying places at Challengers will be made available to players doing well on the ITF Transition Tour. If a player wins a qualifying match but loses in the first round of the Challenger, he will still earn ITF Transition Tour points.
"We're making sure there are fewer ranked players in the sport but also making sure there is an opportunity to play through from the ITF Tour to Challengers and the main ATP Tour," Hutchins said.
The ATP said players had responded favorably to the changes, especially once those who currently play on the Futures Tour understood that there will still be a pathway to the top rungs of the ATP for those who succeed on the ITF Transition Tour.
"When we explained about the points, the prize money, the hospitality, the streaming, the better experience, they were fully supportive," Hutchins said.