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Monday, May 15, 2017

My Conversation with USTA's Stephen Amritraj about June's College Combine in Lake Nona, ITF Pro Circuit Changes, Demise of US Open Playoffs

USTA Director of Collegiate Tennis Stephen Amritraj
Last week I had an opportunity to chat by phone with the USTA Director of Collegiate Tennis Stephen Amritraj about a variety of topics, with an emphasis on the upcoming USTA Collegiate Combine scheduled for June 14-16 at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona Florida. For more from the USTA on the inaugural event for junior players, see this article.

I started out with a question on how I would find news about the Combine or anything related to college tennis on the newly redesigned USTA website, as I couldn't locate anything there in advance of the interview.

Stephen Amritraj: We're working on it. I hear you. It's definitely something that we're well aware of and we're definitely working on it.

Colette Lewis: So what's the impetus behind the Collegiate Combine?

SA: One of our team's goals has been to increase the amount of Americans playing college tennis, or at least try to. We all understand the landscape that is out there for players and parents as they try to get college scholarships and roster spots, owing to the fact that tennis has the highest foreign percentage of any D-I sport.

So we brainstormed, thought of an idea like this recruiting showcase, where we can try to attract as many as players as we can, as many coaches as we can and showcase them in a different light: from a tennis perspective, a physical perspective, but have it be only for Americans, that's the really unique thing about it. I think it's picking up steam and I hope it's a part of the National Campus every year, that coaches are marking on their calendars and saying this is one of the better events that we can come to.

CL: How is the Intercollegiate Tennis Association involved?
SA: We're partnering with the ITA to host a coaches symposium on the grounds of the campus during the event, so I feel it's a great kind of mixture. American juniors are going to be there playing in front of college coaches, who have a great reason to be there.  It's on the campus, which is a pretty amazing place, especially when it's buzzing. And the coaches are going to get an educational component out of it. We're trying to make it a one-stop shop and I hope people find it to be an attractive proposition.

CL: Is it just Division I?
SA: Absolutely not. It is all levels. We've had multiple D-III signups so far; we've had top D-I signups as well, but it's meant to be for all levels, everything across the board.

CL: Will the list of the coaches attending be released?
SA: We're going to be doing that soon, and hopefully making a marketing push through you, through Lisa (Stone, ParentingAces.com), others to drive awareness for it.  The really cool thing about it is it's open entry. No matter how good, or where you're from, as long as you're American you can enter and compete in this, and by compete, I mean showcase yourself. If you want to play college tennis, there is probably a level for way more juniors than are currently playing college tennis.

CL: What would a successful first event look like in retrospect?
SA: I think there will be really good execution on our part and our staff's part. We can't control the amount of people that are signing up. We can't control the number of coaches who are showing up. I believe it will be close to 100 players who will sign up and I believe it will be close to 100 coaches who will come, because we're on the heels of the Bobby Curtis Sectionals event, where we already get a lot of coaches coming. It's a first-year event, so there's going to be things that come up that we didn't expect, but in general, great execution on our part is what I'm expecting and what are goals are.

Our hopes are that this can turn into something that helps more Americans feel that they have more support from the USTA to be a part of college tennis. That's the goal of this and I hope it works out, because I really think that it's our biggest step in that direction and I hope there is really good support from the community with it.

CL: What are your thoughts on the US Open Playoffs getting axed?
SA: It was definitely a tough decision. I think a lot of college players did use it, but what ended up happening was that so many foreigners ended up winning it. That turned it into an event that wasn't having the same outcome as when you conceptualize it. People were taking advantage of it and that becomes problematic. That's a pretty big carrot. Just in general, as the release said, I don't think that's what the initial thought was with it, and I kind of agree with that.

CL: The ITF recently announced a restructuring of its Pro Circuit. What input did the USTA have on this?
SA: I've had some discussion with it. I totally understand why the ITF is doing it. I think that overall there's a gambling concern in the rest of the world that makes this an issue and it's something they have to be proactive on. It's too easy these days to contact someone over social media when they're playing for whatever it is for first round, a hundred and fifty dollars, a line that can be placed somewhere, some place, on the match. I think that's not a mixture that's without problems.

They're going to create this transition tour of lower prize money and then have the main ITF Circuit at the $25K level, where they are, from what I gather, starting ATP and WTA points at that level.

So instead of what you have currently, with over 2000 people ranked with a point, you have 750 or 800 with what is I guess a more palatable number than the 2200 quote unquote professionals, who aren't really professionals.

CL: Is there any fear that college players won't be able to make that transition? I'm assuming the ITF hasn't given much consideration to that aspect.
SA: I haven't seen the full proposal, so I can't speak on the record about that. But what I am willing to say is that it probably going to force players to have a goal earlier in their collegiate career, a goal that they want to be a professional tennis player. It's not easy now, but if a guy or girl who comes out of school without a point and decides they want to do this, it will be even more of an uphill battle, starting from the transition tour.

The ITF is an international body, and I don't believe they're taking the viewpoint of collegiate tennis in the forefront of their mission. But I think college tennis has found a way to be a great pathway and I think it's still going to be a great pathway, I really do.

4 comments:

Go Hoos said...

The end of that interview is a little ominous. At least it suggests more teams will schedule or try to schedule like UVA did and have their guys split up the spring between duals and ITFs. UVA played a weaker than normal schedule this spring bc the team played so many pro events. UVA normally would have made a road trip to play some quality out of conference opponents. Maybe that's better for the best college guys, but less high level duals doesn't seem like a great thing for fans.

David said...

Re: Eliminating the US Open playoff ... this sounds like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Why not just change the requirements? To compete: 1) You must be a US citizen; 2) You cannot have any ATP/WTA points. Seems pretty simple to me.

5.0 Player said...

@David. I totally agree with you. This is so stupid. They could simply change the requirement so that players must be U.S. citizens which was the obvious requirement that they should have had when they first implemented the US Open Playoffs. So, instead of an easy correction they just quit. A very simple fix was just too much for them. This is grossly incompetent decision Number 7 million by the disgraceful people who have run the USTA for the past 20 or so years.

Curious said...

Colette,

Considering there have been so many changes to college tennis over the past couple of years (i.e. scoring/format/etc.), do you think it's time to overhaul the ranking system? Or at least get the ITA and the NCAA on the same page? There seems to have been several discrepancies between the two in terms of the final rankings and NCAA seedlings.

Let me know your thoughts!