Oracle's lower-tier tennis tour offers young US players a new path to the pros

Young U.S. tennis players with professional aspirations have a new potential pathway to the ATP and WTA Tours with the establishment of the Oracle Pro Series, a lower-tier circuit for rising talents.

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Funded by computer tech firm Oracle, the circuit will hold six combined men’s and women’s tennis tournaments this fall and a larger slate of more than 20 tournaments in 2020. Men’s and women’s events will feature equal prize money ranging from $25,000 to $108,000 per tournament.

Oracle said the new initiative will boost professional playing opportunities for U.S. players by more than 40 percent, with top performers earning improved pro rankings and access to more prestigious international events on the ATP and WTA tours. The circuit aims to boost career prospects and provide a training ground for top juniors and college players who would have otherwise fell short of the pros.

“These events help develop American talent and serve as a stepping stone for players to reach the highest levels of the game, while at the same time inspire kids across the nation to pick up a racket and play this sport,” US Tennis Association CEO Stacey Allaster said in a statement.

The Oracle Pro Series is set to be managed by American tennis great and former top-ranked player Jim Courier and his firm, InsideOut Sports & Entertainment. Play begins on Oct. 6 at the Claremont Club in Los Angeles, with further events planned in California, Texas and Florida.

“The Oracle Pro Series is an unprecedented expansion in the number of U.S. professional tournaments and reinforces Oracle’s commitment to advancing the sport,” Courier said. “We are thrilled to be partnering with Oracle to give up-and-coming players more opportunities to compete for prize money, improve their rankings and launch their careers. Together, we will play a big part influencing the future of tennis in the U.S.”

Top junior tennis players face a tough path to the pro tour, with parents regularly paying more than $50,000 to enroll their kids at private tennis academies. Players who parlay their tennis skills into college scholarships often see their careers come to an end after senior year.

Only a “very, very low percentage” of junior players proceed to professional careers, with fewer still managing steady success, according to Mark Bowtell, associate director of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York.

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“The statistics say it all, for the most part,” Bowtell said. “For example, if you then look at how many [American women] are in the under-18 hard court national event, there’s probably about 256, and that would actually exclude some people who didn’t even make the cut. That’s just one particular age group. So they’d be lucky if one person from that set age group made it into the top 10 or top 20 [on the pro tour].”