Are you dreaming of becoming a professional tennis player? It’s a challenging and rewarding journey that requires dedication, hard work, and a lot of practice. But with the right mindset and approach, you can make your way to the top of the game.
In this article, we’ll explore the steps you need to take to play tennis on a professional level, including developing your skills, building your fitness and endurance, and competing in tournaments.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an experienced player looking to take your game to the next level, this guide will provide you with valuable insights and tips to help you reach your goals.
Let’s be honest here, becoming a good tennis player is not easy. Of course, just getting the basics of the game might not be that big of a challenge but going on to potentially become a professional player requires years of practice, discipline, and commitment to improving in every aspect of the game.
Most of the professional players we see competing in the biggest tournaments in the world started playing tennis at a very early age. Rafael Nadal was just three when he picked up a racquet for the first time, while Novak Djokovic wasn’t much older at four.
Now there are some exceptions here. Perhaps the name that comes to my mind instantly in this regard is the Italian professional tennis player Lorenzo Sonego (ATP No. 21), who started playing at the age of 11. Having said that, it must be kept in mind that fairy-tale examples like these are very uncommon on professional tours.
Tennis is not just about striking a tennis ball, so it lands in the other half of the court. It has a challenging learning curve that cannot be overcome without getting the fundamentals right.
Learning proper tennis technique is a hugely important part of that and isn’t something that just happens; it requires careful and competent coaching that takes things slowly and step-by-step.
Looking back at the early years of top players like Nadal and Djokovic. Both players had tennis lessons from a very young age, the former getting it from his uncle, Toni Nadal, while the latter from the famous Jelena Gencic, who also coached other big names like Monica Seles and Goran Ivanisevic.
Know THE RULES
Tennis cannot be played without knowing its rules. Apart from the scoring system where points are won to win games and sets and eventually a match, there are a lot of other rules in this game that must be known in their entirety.
Moreover, knowing the dimensions of the court is also quite important. Getting this feel of the court this way allows for greater accuracy in serve and groundstrokes from all angles of the court.
Knowing the rules of tennis is crucial for professional players as it can give them a competitive advantage, help them maintain professional conduct, and ensure that they are able to comply with tournament regulations.
Professional tennis players train extensively to maintain their level and stay competitive. Here are some ways that they typically train:
- Practice sessions: Pros spend a significant amount of time practicing on the court. I’d say an average of 5-6 days per week, 2-3 hours per session. This can include hitting drills, footwork drills, and playing practice matches with a coach or partner.
- Physical conditioning: Professional players also very much focus on their physical conditioning to maintain their fitness and endurance. This can include activities such as running, stretching, weight training, and cardio workouts. This happens 3-5 times a week before or after practice sessions.
- Mental training: Players work on their mental game and strategies to stay focused and manage their emotions during matches. This can include visualization techniques, goal setting, and stress management strategies. 1-2 times a week with a mental coach.
- Nutrition and recovery: Players need to pay a lot of attention to their nutrition and make sure to get adequate rest and recovery to stay healthy and energized. This can include things like eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and using techniques like massage or ice baths to aid recovery.
- Analysis and strategy: Players also work on their strategy and analyze their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. They may work with a coach or use video analysis to identify areas for improvement and develop a game plan.
Overall, professional tennis players train extensively to maintain their level and stay competitive, including practicing on the court, working on their physical conditioning, mental game, nutrition and recovery, and analyzing and strategizing.
Playing local and national tournaments is important for a number of reasons if you want to become a professional tennis player:
- Exposure: Playing in local tournaments can help you gain exposure and get noticed by coaches, scouts, and other industry professionals. This can be especially important if you are just starting out and trying to break into the professional ranks and if you keep winning on the local level you will get the chance to play national tournaments.
- Ranking points: Most local and national tournaments award ranking points to the players who compete in them. These points are used to determine a player’s ranking and can help them qualify for bigger and more prestigious tournaments.
- Experience: Playing in tournaments can help you gain valuable experience and get used to the pressure and demands of competition. This can help you develop your skills and mental toughness, and prepare you for the challenges of the professional tour.
- Competition: Tournaments provide a chance to compete against other players and test your skills. This can help you improve your game and see where you stand in relation to your peers.
Professional tennis players can incur a range of expenses as they pursue their careers. These can include:
- Travel: They often have to travel to compete in tournaments, which can involve costs for flights, hotels, meals, and ground transportation.
- Equipment: They need to purchase or maintain their own rackets, strings, balls, tennis shoes , and other gear, which can be very costly.
- Training and coaching: Players may work with a team of coaches, trainers, and other support staff, which can involve hefty fees for their services.
- Physical therapy and medical treatment: Players may need to seek treatment for injuries or other health issues, which can involve costs for medical care and rehabilitation.
- Living expenses: Players may incur costs for rent, food, and other living expenses as they travel and compete.
As a result, securing lucrative sponsorships can become very important for aspiring tennis players for several reasons:
- Financial support: Sponsorships can provide financial support to help players cover the costs of tennis training, travel, and other expenses associated with pursuing a professional career. This can be especially important for players who are just starting out and may not have the resources to fully fund their careers on their own.
- Exposure: Sponsorships can also provide players with exposure and help to increase their visibility in the sport. This can be beneficial for players who are trying to build their brand and gain recognition in the industry.
- Professional opportunities: Sponsorships can open up opportunities for players to work with top brands and organizations, and can provide access to resources and expertise that can help them improve their game and advance their careers.
- Career advancement: Sponsorships can also help players advance their careers by providing financial stability and the opportunity to focus on their training and competition. This can help players reach their full potential and achieve their goals in the sport.
It’s no secret that the chances of becoming a professional tennis player are extremely low. What’s more, even fewer people make a living off the sport. Realistically, only the top 100 players in the world earn enough to make a decent living.
Aspiring junior players who wish to turn professional must first perform exceptionally well and register as many wins as they can at the junior and amateur levels.
Only the top juniors in the world would have an adequate chance of breaking into the top 100, and only if they manage to keep winning a lot for at least a few more years.
Initially, players would need to compete on the Challenger Tour and earn ATP points to move higher in the rankings, allowing them to play qualifiers for small ATP or WTA tournaments.
How long does it take to become a pro in tennis?
It all depends. For example, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal began their professional careers at the age of 14 and 15. On the other hand, former top 10 player John Isner didn’t turn pro until he was 22.
How much money do lower-ranked players earn?
The disparity in prize money between the top-ranked and low-ranked players is huge in tennis. In 2019, the top 100 players earned around eighty percent of the total prize money on offer for the top 750 players in the world. In contrast, the share of those ranked from 251 to 750 was a measly 2 percent.
What’s being done to help players on the way up?
Although lower-ranked players have been largely ignored in tennis, there have been some notable efforts to support them. In 2013, the ATP started a pension program as a post-retirement financial support for players ranked as low as 125.
Also, in a bid to help lower-ranked players during Covid-19, it increased the minimum prize money at the ATP 500 and ATP 250 events by 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, in 2021, a clear improvement over the previous 50 percent. This followed the $6 million-plus fund established by the ATP, WTA, and ITF to help players ranked from 250 to 700 make ends meet.
What are international ITF junior tournaments?
An International ITF (International Tennis Federation) less junior tournament is a competition for junior (under 18) tennis players. These tournaments are organized by the ITF, the governing body for international tennis, and are held worldwide.
ITF junior tournaments are designed to provide opportunities for junior players to compete at the international level and gain experience against top players from different countries. These tournaments often serve as a stepping stone for players looking to advance their careers and eventually turn professional.
ITF junior tournaments are divided into four categories based on the level of competition: Grade 1 (the highest level), Grade 2, Grade 3, and Grade 4 (the lowest level). Players earn ranking points for their performances in these tournaments, which can help them qualify for other events and move up the ranks.
ITF junior tournaments are international competitions for junior tennis players, organized by the ITF, that provide opportunities for players to gain experience and advance their careers.
What kind of tournaments do young players need to win in order to progress in their pursuit of turning pro in tennis?
When you begin with competitive tennis between the ages of 8 and 10, you will start with club tournaments, and if you do well enough, you will progress to regional tournaments, sectionals, and, if you continue to succeed, national tournaments.
How does the United States Tennis Association help junior players turn pro?
The USTA helps young players become professional tennis players through its junior development program, which is designed to identify and support talented young players. The program includes a range of initiatives, such as training camps, coaching clinics, and competitive tournaments, designed to help young players improve their skills and advance their careers.
You cannot decide to become a tennis professional, unlike other professions where you can decide to become a doctor or a lawyer. You can only decide whether to start the process.
Only a select few elite players have the opportunity to make a living through competition, and admission to the club is determined by how well players perform throughout the developmental phase.
Tennis has the great benefit of providing continuous feedback as you play. The outcomes of each step will determine your next move throughout the process. There are no detours and hardly ever alternate routes.
Check out this interesting study on the difference between high-level junior tennis and actual pro tennis performance!
Christoph Friedrich is a German tennis player and coach currently residing in Oakland, California. He began his tennis journey at the age of eight and has since dedicated his life to the sport. After working as a tennis coach and hitting partner in New York City for eight years, Christoph decided to share his knowledge and experience with tennis players around the world by creating the My Tennis Expert blog. His goal is to make tennis education accessible to everyone and help players select the best equipment for their game, from racquets and strings to shoes and overgrips. Christoph's extensive research and expertise in tennis technology make him a valuable resource for players of all levels.