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post #1 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 07:01 PM Thread Starter
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Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

Tennis gypsies

It's a long, lonely and costly road on the Pro Circuit

By Adi Joseph | Of The Morning Call July 11, 2008

Stacey Tan, 16, is reaching a tennis crossroads. Being a part of the summer's USTA Pro Circuit is helping her decide whether to pursue a full-time professional career or take a break for college. (MONICA CABRERA, Allentown Morning Call / July 8, 2008)




Varvara Lepchenko has seen the effects of outside stress on her tennis game.


The 22-year-old Allentown resident is in her seventh year as a professional tennis player. With each year, each tournament she plays in, the pressure only intensifies.


Airfare. Food. Hotel. Equipment.


Even as one of the top earners on the United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit tour, a tournament featuring lower-paying events than those of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, Lepchenko knows she must perform, if only to pay the bills that come with being a professional athlete and all the traveling that comes with that tag.


''It's very hard to do when you're struggling and you're not making enough money and you're thinking about how you're getting to the next tournament and you're thinking about food,'' the Uzbekistan native said. ''The press shows a lot about how everything is so beautiful and great. But they don't show how hard it is to sponsor yourself and get from one tournament to another.''


Lepchenko was upset in the second round of the Mecco Cup, the tournament this weekend at Westend Racquet Club in South Whitehall Township. While the $7,700 top prize -- far short of the $1.38 million Venus Williams won at Wimbledon last Saturday -- isn't enough to keep a player going for long, she admitted that each time she loses, it only increases the pressure. On the Pro Circuit, winning is the only way to earn a paycheck.


But Lepchenko remembers when, briefly, finances weren't such an issue. Two years ago, a family from Philadelphia sponsored Lepchenko, helping her concentrate on tennis and take her game to another level. She recalls playing some of her best tennis during that time.


''In two or three months, I was playing unbelievably,'' said Lepchenko, ranked No. 137 in the world. ''It was like I couldn't stop winning.''


Lepchenko is back to sponsoring herself, as most Pro Circuit players do. It's a long, lonely and costly road, in which the end doesn't always seem within reach.


More than 1,100 players are ranked by the WTA. Only about 100 can be guaranteed spots in major tournaments.


The rest, like Lepchenko, live as tennis gypsies, traveling the world without much more than their rackets, sneakers and the iPods they use to clear their minds.


Some begin leading this life when they're as young as 14-year-old Libby Muma, who played in the Mecco Cup as a wild card. Some continue it as long as 38-year-old Barbara Schultz-McCarthy, also in town for the week. But it doesn't seem to get any easier.


''You're away from your family,'' said 21-year-old Carly Gullickson, ranked No. 315. ''You're doing this for a living, so you want to make money. But it's just lonely. You've got to have your head on straight and you've got to know what you want to do out here.''


Players are often forced to abandon the conventional teenage life. Instead of prom, there is tennis. Rather than beaches, there is tennis. No time for boys, just tennis.


''It's not easy. Traveling that much is a lot,'' said 23-year-old Ahsha Rolle, ranked No. 148. Rolle was in town to watch her younger sister, Tiya Rolle, compete in qualifying. ''I just keep it fun for myself. Try to do things each week, normal stuff like going out on the town, to the movies.''


On Pro Circuit events, some of that financial and personal hardship evens out. Players can stay in homes of local tennis boosters, organized through each club that hosts a tournament.


Chip Morrow of Coopersburg and his family have opened their doors to a player each year since the Mecco Cup began in Allentown eight years ago. Morrow, who is housing Gullickson this week, said that as a former tennis player, he really enjoys helping them.


His son, Doug Morrow, now 20, has grown up with the once-a-summer visit from a new tennis player. Doug has spent part of his week showing Gullickson around the area.


Through the experience, the Morrows have picked up on some of the ins-and-outs of other cultures, and the players have a little less to worry about and a little more to do during the week.


''These girls travel a lot, and I think it really helps them,'' Chip Morrow said

Not having to worry about hotel costs is a luxury for the players on the Pro Circuit. Very few players have full sponsorships, and some still rely on their parents for assistance.


Nineteen-year-old Kimberly Couts, ranked No. 287, has received some help from her New Jersey tennis club, where sponsors have allowed her to continue her 25-tournament annual schedule as she climbs the ranks.


But Couts, like most players, admits that even with the help, the main thing keeping her going is the drive to succeed and become a top professional.


"Obviously, we're doing this to move up to the next level and start playing in all the [WTA] tour events and grand slams and all that. It's not easy, but I think everybody out here, probably somewhere in there, loves it. You have to, I think, to do this.?"


Stacey Tan is just 16 years old and ranked No. 780 in the world.


She competed in the Mecco Cup qualifiers and was one of four players to make it through to the main draw. Her tournament ended Wednesday, when she was eliminated by Milagros Sequera in the first round of the main draw.


Tan is reaching nearing an age where she has a choice that most players on the Pro Circuit had to deal with at some pointhave had to make. She is still in high school, but she knows soon she will have to decide between pursuing a full-timetennis career full time and going to college, playing tennis at school, and holding off on her professional dreams for a few years.


Gullickson and Rolle both chose the professional route, while USC player Amanda Fink, an unranked wild card in the tournament, decided she was best served byon college.


It just seemed like, at my age, at 17, I didn't think I was ready," Fink said. "I just really needed to mature, and I thought that college was the best environment for me."


Tan said her parents want her to go to school. But the choice is still up in the air for now. And playing in these summer tournaments is helping her decide.


She's learning the life she could have. It's one neither Rolle nor Gullickson would trade.


"Sometimes I felt like I missed out on the high school experience or the college experience," Rolle said. "But in return, I got to travel around the world and see things people my age just dream of. You weigh your pros and cons."


"Tennis has made me grow up really fast compared to other kids," Gullickson said. "But, I mean, I've had fun with what I've been doing. I've enjoyed it."


http://www.mcall.com/entertainment/a...9.story?page=2
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post #2 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 07:23 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

This is a very interesting article and Im looking to post a lot of articles similar to this on http://thetennistimes.com. Players at that level need help in working out how they are going to move forward.

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post #3 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 07:26 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

It's sad. Some of them sound like they don't even like the game of tennis anymore but they're sort of stuck in it because they have nothing else to turn to.

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post #4 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 07:46 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

Well you have to work very hard to get the top. but yeah it's sad

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post #5 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 08:56 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

This sport is hugely difficult for those players not in the top 100. I really don't know how the manage. I really do believe there should be a fairer distribution of prize money between what players make on the main tour and what they make on the ITF tour. If the prize money for the WTA tour was reduced by 20% and that money went into the prize fund for ITF tournaments I personally would consider that a good thing.

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post #6 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 09:05 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

@chris I totally agree. I traveled all over the world playing juniors and then onto the ITF tours and most of the time if you are smart you can make a decent living without being top 100. However, you can earn enough to live off, but never enough to have a house or a car or anything really. But once your on the ATP or WTA tours you are minted! Stupid system, but then again tennis has always been like this and no one has the intelligence or drive to change it!!

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post #7 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 09:31 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

Tan reminds me of Vania King a few years ago. when she went to the crossroad where to pursue the career or go to college, i'm so happy she picked tennis only to see it today that she could be wrong about that decision
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post #8 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 09:35 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

There are players who have the talent to get to the top 20 at about age 25, as long as they stick with it, but they can't afford to spend years on the ITF tour, not making any money

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post #9 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 09:42 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

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Originally Posted by Slumpsova View Post
Tan reminds me of Vania King a few years ago. when she went to the crossroad where to pursue the career or go to college, i'm so happy she picked tennis only to see it today that she could be wrong about that decision
Um, Vania has won a WTA singles title and 4 doubles titles. She's competed on the US Fed Cup team and is still ranked within the top 100. I don't think she's made a wrong decision at all.

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post #10 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 09:44 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

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Originally Posted by ChrisCHorse View Post
This sport is hugely difficult for those players not in the top 100. I really don't know how the manage. I really do believe there should be a fairer distribution of prize money between what players make on the main tour and what they make on the ITF tour. If the prize money for the WTA tour was reduced by 20% and that money went into the prize fund for ITF tournaments I personally would consider that a good thing.
Yes, I think WTA could subsidize some of the prize money for ITF, and also I really advocate WTA leveling the slope of the payout line, shifting some of that money from finalists downward.
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post #11 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 09:48 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

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Yes, I think WTA could subsidize some of the prize money for ITF, and also I really advocate WTA leveling the slope of the payout line, shifting some of that money from finalists downward.
Damn right!!!

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post #12 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 09:56 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

As for Stacy Tan, how about this: get her GED at 17, get recruited by a college with a good tennis program, play four years college tennis while getting her degree, graduate at 21 and join the tour.
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post #13 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 09:57 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

I agree with the prizemoney shift, and the ITF should do it also.
They make a lot at the majors, and they can double the money at ITF events easily.

The current system weeds out slow developing players who don't have rich parents. But a lot of those girls have talent.

That's why young girls are taught ball bashing. You have to make it to the WTA tour while you are young, or you can't afford to hang around.

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post #14 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 10:02 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

they should do away with all these 28- and 32- players draws. by having more 64-player draws at Tier IIIs, you allow these ITF girls a chance to play the top players, improve their games, and the chance to earn some money. when you're fighting all week at a small ITF to try and win the top prize of $8,000 and then still find yourself stuck in ITF world, that's pretty depressing and not helping to develop players.

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post #15 of 25 (permalink) Old Jul 12th, 2008, 10:05 PM
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Re: Tennis gypsies (Nice article about life on the ITF Tour)

I'm always interested about anecdotes on the practicalities of the tennis player's life but I don't necessarily pity them...
John McEnroe said that there was nothing in it that helps make you a rounded person. It's self-absorbed.
I'm guessing a lot of these players are bankrolled by their parents and actually losing money from 100+ down the rankings. A tennis player's once father told me that you needed to be 70 ranked to clear your expenses.

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