The 34th season of the USTA Pro Circuit is underway with two clay-court events in Florida—the $10,000 men’s Futures in Plantation, Fla., and the $25,000 women’s event in Innisbrook, Fla. The USTA Pro Circuit, the largest developmental tennis circuit in the world, is scheduled to feature 89 events this year—including a record 35 tournaments on clay—and will award nearly $3 million in total prize money.
This is one way young players earn points and prize money that can take them to the ATP and WTA Tours.
The Plantation tournament begins a string of four consecutive clay-court $10,000 men’s Futures events, and the Innisbrook tournament is the first of two consecutive $25,000 women’s events to be played on clay. This is the first of two clay-court seasons on the USTA Pro Circuit calendar; the other begins in the spring prior to the French Open. In conjunction with USTA Player Development, the USTA Pro Circuit continues to emphasize the importance of increased training for younger players on clay, particularly at the $10,000/$25,000 level for women and $10,000/$15,000 level for men. Four clay-court events were added to the calendar this year.
For the first time ever, live streaming will debut for all 15 USTA Pro Circuit men’s Challengers (prize money of $50,000 and higher) at www.procircuit.usta.com. Main court coverage includes three camera angles, along with scoreboard graphics and commentary from an on-site announcer. A second court uses a fixed camera with a score feed only. Live streaming will begin on Jan. 21 at the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit Challenger in Maui, Hawaii.
The women's Midland, Mich. event will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of its women’s tournament, Feb. 3-10. Hosted by the Midland Community Tennis Center, the tournament began as a $25,000 event in 1989, became a $50,000 contest in 1996, rose to a $75,000 event in 1999, and in 2009 was named a $100,000 women’s event. The tournament, the Dow Corning Tennis Classic, holds an impressive track record of launching the careers of future stars, including six Grand Slam singles winners and 13 Grand Slam doubles winners. Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, Li Na, Anna Kournikova and Mary Pierce are among the stars who have played in Midland.
The opening weeks of competition feature both up-and-coming players and veterans looking to rebuild their games for another shot at tour competition. Those scheduled to begin their season in the coming weeks include Taylor Townsend and Robby Ginepri. Townsend, who recently turned pro, finished 2012 ranked No. 1 in the ITF World Junior Rankings, becoming the first American girl to hold that position since Gretchen Rush in 1982. Former world No. 15 Ginepri is the only active American male to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament (the 2005 US Open). Ginepri is on the comeback trail after suffering a broken elbow in late 2010 when he fell off his bicycle trying to avoid a squirrel, an injury that has sidelined him periodically over the last three years.
Last year, Brian Baker began his rapid comeback at the USTA Pro Circuit season-opening men’s event in Plantation. Baker, ranked No. 456 in the world at the start of 2012 after suffering various injuries from 2005 to 2008, was looking to rebuild his career by playing in a string of USTA Pro Circuit Futures events. He progressed to Challenger-level tournaments and accelerated his comeback by earning the USTA’s wild card to the French Open as the American who earned the most ranking points at two USTA Pro Circuit clay-court Challengers—a $100,000 event in Sarasota, Fla., and a $50,000 event in Savannah, Ga. Baker quickly changed his summer plans and headed to Europe, where he reached his first ATP final at the French Open tune-up event in Nice, advanced to the second round of the French Open and then reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, matching Mardy Fish for best finish by an American man at The Championships. Baker is currently ranked No. 59, nearly 400 spots higher than last year.
The prize money ranges from $10,000 to $100,000, and the USTA Pro Circuit is the pathway to the US Open and tour-level competition for aspiring tennis professionals, and a frequent battleground for established players. Last year more than 1,000 men and women from more than 70 countries played on the USTA Pro Circuit, competing for valuable ATP and WTA ranking points. Administered on the local level, the USTA Pro Circuit brings world-class tennis to local courts nationwide as part of the fabric of communities–an opportunity for current and new fans to experience the excitement and intensity of the professional game in their neighborhood.
Since 1979, 17 USTA Pro Circuit alums (including five Americans) have achieved the No. 1 world singles rankings. Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, Lindsay Davenport, Pete Sampras, Justine Henin, Jim Courier and Andre Agassi are among the game’s top stars who began their career on the USTA Pro Circuit. The past few years have seen breakout performances by a number of USTA Pro Circuit players, including John Isner, Christina McHale, Ryan Harrison, Sloane Stephens and Brian Baker.