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Please note: After this article was written, there seems to be a preponderance of somewhat successful college players on the men's side even if they do only go to college for one or two years and then "turn pro." I still believe in making it in pro tennis when you are young and able to focus on only that. If by a certain age 20 or 21 you are not in the top 200, then you might want to begin with stage two of your life and go to college. I just do not understand how a college player at age 22 or 23 is supposed to start at the bottom in the Futures and be thinking seriously about a pro career, once again, these are the fling brothers and sisters just having a nice vacation around the world, but I guess there is no law against that either.
After reading the latest article July/August in Tennis Magazine, "The Dream Seekers" by Thomas Hackett, I was really amazed that such a picture is painted for all players in the world who are participating at this level of tennis. Can we please have the other side of the story. It is true that it could be rather hopeless and depressing if you are 20 something and still playing in a 16 - 18 something environment. There was no mention in this article of the countless young players who are really doing it right, albeit a struggle, but are nevertheless particpating in most likely a 128 Qualifying draw and some younger players even possibly getting into the Main Draw.
Misplaced Americans playing on the Futures tour are not the only true representatives of those who play at this level of tennis. Most of the world knows that you should be between 14 and 20 to begin at this level and most likely if you do not make it by the time you are 20 or 21 into the top 300, it is time to move on with your life and not use this circuit for your limboland state of mind forever. I mean, you can, but why are you doing it? I just hope it is not because the USTA promised you a "pro career AFTER college." If you are having a "pro career" after college it could be in reality disguised as a mid-life crisis for 20 somethings. At best the 20 somethings on the Futures Tour are having their tennis fling functioning in the "just want to see if I have what it takes, so as to have no regrets" mode. But that is not what the rest of the world is doing, but really the ex-college American guys just start too late for whatever reason. It could be part of the go to college and have your cake and eat it too syndrome which is typically American and possibly due to the teachings of the USTA that caused their professional tennis careers never to happen. But ultimately it is every player's choice of when to start playing and when to stop. But, for me personally, I don't want to hear any whining from American 20 somethings when they don't make it, because they ultimately chose their own fate by not starting on the tour when they were younger. Or, if they are out there when they shouldn't be, that is their problem too.
Now why couldn't this same (usually American college guy or girl) have gone out there when they were 15 and tried to develop their game while on the tour until say 19 or 20 years old and THEN go on to college after they were sure that they had tried tennis at the right age, with the right sponsorship money, and certainly a more optimistic frame of mind. Do you think they are going to lock the doors of our colleges and universities and not let you in after 20 or 21?
It is the year 2000. We are no longer in the 70's when the game had not yet taken off in Europe. Europe started to dominate in the 80's and has never looked back. In mostly all of the other countries, their tennis infrastructure allows the young player to get started early and when it is time to make the very important decision to ultimately quit life on the tour by the time they are 20 or 21 if they have not made it to the top 300, they are better able to do it. Why are they better prepared to quit? It is simply because they have been trying, reaching for their dream, since they were probably 12 - 14 years of age and are able to accept reality that they tried their guts out, it didn't happen, and now it is OK to quit and move on to other studies or jobs in tennis.
Those individuals who keep on trying this lifestyle after these checkpoint ages must really not want to grow up or are really convinced they are indeed the ultimate late bloomer or they have a lot of money from someone who just wants to "help the young man" who (the one donating the money) has no real idea about tennis and when to start or quit a pro career.
The true sadness for me as an American is that our system here in the US has really short-changed our 20 somethings, still trying for it as players. They opted for college probably way too young, but you say, it was their choice. They wanted the scholarship, but in the process possibly said goodbye to their real dream as you can not be in two places at once and the competition at the college level is not the same as the competition at the Futures level and training does not take place while sitting at a desk. The only guys who truly make it from college are for the most part given big money contracts from IMG coupled with the abundance of Wild Cards propelling them to the top 200 or 300 without even having to pay their dues like most of the other players on the tour. Now how would you really like to earn your ranking?
I just hope that every young player in our new millennium who dreams of being a professional, really knows that:
#1 You must start on the tour at the right age (14 - 15 years).
#2 You must know when to quit on the tour at the right age. Top 300 by 20 or 21 after having started at age 14 or 15, or quit.
If the competition that you seek is not provided for you here in the US, be prepared to train in Europe as they provide a national ranking (you can get one in Germany or France) see National Ranking, team tennis, national prize money circuits, all of which, sadly, we do not have enough of in this country and are the bread and butter for Europeans and the very opportunities which jumpstart their pro careers providing for them ample money and competition towards their quest in achieving an ATP or WTA world ranking. For further information, see Alternate Circuits.