Nice article on how the Challenger Circuit Came into Existence
I remember all of these circuits mentioned in here. In fact, if I dug around some old boxes, I could probably find results from them.
USTA Pro Circuit: Celebrating 25 years
4/10/03 10:19 AM
By Greg Laub, USTA.com
The USTA Pro Circuit is celebrating it’s 25th year of existence. In honor of this, USTA.com is dedicating a series of articles throughout the year to the 25 years of the USTA Pro Circuit – focusing on the history, special players, and major events of America's gateway to tennis stardom. This is Part One of the series.
Back in the early 1970s, a large contingency of young tennis players faced a tough dilemma. Aspiring athletes that were hoping to break into the big time, known then as the Grand Prix tournaments, saw themselves stuck in a no-win situation. At that time, the only way to break into the pro tournaments and gain computer points necessary to move up in the professional rankings (the method still used by the ATP and WTA today), was to be invited as a wild card, or to win through the qualifying rounds of that tournament. But you needed computer points to be invited to the qualifying rounds. That was the catch-22.
Then, in 1973, a couple of ex-players founded the “satellite” circuit to help pave a path for the younger players on their way up. Armistead Neely and Larry Turville started the “WATCH” Circuit (World Association of Tennis Champions), which at first was just a few tournaments set in Florida. But as more and more players and more and more sponsors got interested, the scene exploded at a fierce pace over the next six years, sprouting new circuits from the Southern Circuit to Missouri Valley. There was hardly any supervision of all the circuits was completely unsupervised.
The Pro Circuit is allowing young Maria Kirilenko to break onto the scene, winning her first pro title at the Chris Evert USTA Satellite (Jonathan Fickies/usopen.org)
One man had an idea to change all of that. Marshall Happer, a volunteer for the USTA and eventual Chairman of the USTA Circuits Committee, thought it would be best to take all the circuits and give it one national jurisdiction.
So in 1979 he did just that, and now, in it’s 25th year, the USTA Pro Circuit is as strong as ever. It continues to serve as the place for the budding stars to develop and grow, and a stage where they can earn valuable ATP Entry System and WTA Tour Ranking computer points – not to mention a pretty decent living.
Brian Earley, Director of the USTA Pro Circuit, points out that the circuit supports the USTA’s mission – to promote and develop the growth of tennis – by bringing world-class professional tennis to nearly 100 communities nationwide. He also states that the USTA Pro Circuit not only provides competitive opportunities for the next generation of American tennis champions, but that it also showcases the game to new players and fans at the local level.
And it all never would have happened without Marshall Happer’s one idea.
In the mid-70’s, the circuits were scattered throughout the nation, and they didn’t co-exist. In order to gain actual computer points in the system that was in place, a player had to remain with one circuit for a full segment, which usually amounted to about five tournaments. This was difficult and stressful for many players, when circuits overlapped and they had to forego bigger or more lucrative tournaments to secure their chance at points. The system was getting out of hand.
Happer’s idea was to basically bring all the different circuits (Penn, American Express, Challenger Series, National 21s) under one umbrella, with one national sponsor. All the satellite events would no longer be split into different levels and tiers. There would no longer be conflicting schedules. No more insignificant events. The idea was to make the focus of the competition on the court between the players, not off the court between the organizers.
A current USTA Pro Circuit doubles match.
Teaming with David Grant, the Director of Marketing for Penn Circuit, Happer made it happen. Grant convinced his company, Penn Athletic Products, to invest more money into the tournaments, as well as the tennis balls, while Happer spearheaded the USTA management team. The USTA/Penn Pro Circuit was formed.
Results were seen immediately. The ATP computer rankings increased to 750 players deep in 1979 from a mere 300 the previous year. Young players were no longer getting lost in the shuffle. More and more promising athletes were getting their first taste of real tennis competition, and getting their first shot at earning actual computer ranking points. Players knew that they would be judged on each tournament they participated in, and that their performance will be recorded fairly. They were given the opportunity to climb up the ladder like never before.
In fact, in the first year alone, a number of unknown players were taking advantage of the chance they wouldn't have had in the past.
Charlie Owens, from Alabama, was ranked No. 440 by the ATP at the start of 1979. After winning three consecutive circuit finals in April, he shot all the way up to No. 175.
Mel Purcell’s ATP ranking was at No. 325 in 1980. But after playing in five Penn events (winning three), he gained 18 points and went pro at No. 266. The next week found himself in the finals of the US Clay Courts in Indianapolis and finished the week at No. 44.
While those are cases of instant success, many other outstanding young players were flocking to the USTA/Penn Circuit, hoping to hone their game and develop into seasoned professionals. The most notable was probably Ben McKown, a three-time All American at Trinity University who left school a year early to play on the new pro circuit tour.
USTA Pro Circuit up and comers like Eric Taino now have a chance to show their stuff before turning pro.
He went on to win six of his first ten tournaments, winning the singles points championship for two straight segments, and went from virtual unknown and unranked to No. 215 in the world before turning pro. Players that might have given up on a dream years earlier were now given the chance to make it.
But the new USTA/Penn combination wasn’t just great the players. Putting all the satellite tournaments under one management roof added integrity to the circuit. Tennis was being viewed on a grander scale across the world as more communities took notice. And corporations began to take notice too.
In 1981, Nike Company decided to team with the USTA to create the USTA/Nike National Circuit, a six tournament tour for women. Rookies and veterans alike were given the opportunity to gain tournament experience, prize money, and computer points that would eventually translate into the women’s international rankings, as it did with the men’s circuit started a couple years earlier.
Also in 1981, the USTA/Penn Pro Circuit segments were cut to five (still five tournaments each), and the following year the name was changed to USTA Pro Circuit when the USTA decided to be the sole sponsor, increasing the prize money and computer points. The women’s circuit eventually would dropp the Nike sponsor, and the rest is history.
Now in it’s 25th year, both the men’s and women’s circuits are broken into various levels. It has expanded to become the most comprehensive developmental tennis circuit in the world, with about 100 tournaments and nearly $3 million in total purse. The USTA Pro Circuit has been the launching pad for many of today’s great players, from Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport, to Andy Roddick and Alexandra Stevenson, to Taylor Dent and Daniela Hantuchova.
In 1979 Marshall Happer was hoping to unite the satellites in order to give the young players a better opportunity to reach their potential. Twenty-five years later, the USTA Pro Circuit continues on as America’s gateway to tennis stardom.