1. What is ITF? - ITF stands for International Tennis Federation. Among other things, they are responsible for managing the under 18 boys' and girl's junior circuit. This circuit culminates into world junior ranking and the top 128 ranked players are eligible to play the grand slams.
2. Where can I find all the rules regarding ITF? - ITF is the home of all rules and tournament schedules are posted there. However, I am attaching below the important rules and guidelines.
3. What UTR does my kid need to be to play ITF? - ITF does not care for UTR. ITF entries goes by ITF ranking. If one does not have a ranking, they need to find places where they feel they can enter. Sometimes these locations are far away. In my experience, for girls, I have seen UTR 5 through 11 in J5s (lowest of ITF events) and 8 thru 12.5 in J5 for boys. The range varies based on location, event grade, concurrent tournaments etc.
4. How do I enter an ITF? - First, a player needs to create an IPIN in order to play ITF. Here is the IPIN FAQ link source. Once registered, the IPIN portal is the gateway to entry, withdrawal etc.
5. Will my child make the cut to play?
First, a little explanation is needed on how the selection works.
Main Draw - There are 22 main draw direct entry spots. ITF ranking amongst the entrants determines a slot there. If world number 200 is the highest rank entrant, he/she gets the first slot followed by next highest ranking. There are also 4 main draw wild cards given at the discretion of the tournament. They are generally determined by local sponsors or IMG who has strong influence on the junior tour. There are also 2 special exempt main draw spots which are reserved for players who could not make it to qualifying because they were playing in a finals or semis in previous week in another ITF juniors’ tournament. If there are more than 2 special exempt needs, ITF follows ranking order. If no special exempts are needed, the tournaments can give 2 additional regional wild cards to players from the region.
Qualifying Spots - Then there are 28 qualifying spots that goes by ITF ranking amongst the entrants. Just like main draw, there are 4 qualifying wild card spots. All qualifiers need to sign in on Friday evening before qualifying between 4 PM to 6 PM local time. Only signed players get in to the draw. A total of 4 qualifiers move on to the main draw.
When the entry closes, it may seem overwhelming as you may see your child at no 45 alternates. Wednesday before main draw is something called Freeze Deadline. It’s like a second chance to withdraw. You will see many players drop off then. But, most importantly several players do not show up to the qualifier sign in. So, you go to sign in as an alternate and take a chance.
For a girl, I have not seen a full qualifying draw in J5s and J4s in last 6 months. But, when you go in as an alternate, you are taking the chance of not making the draw. For a boy, I have seen full draws where alternates do not make the cut.
The bottom line is that getting first few points in ITF is the hardest as far as getting in is concerned. It is totally up to the parent to decide if this is something they are willing to invest in knowing that there is a chance the kid may not make the draw. It is a little bit of last minute juggle to see who gets in and not.
6. Why play ITF Juniors?
ITF juniors provides few opportunities not available elsewhere. They are:
- Tour Experience - The ITF tour J5 and J4 mimic Futures tour. You get a taste of playing and traveling in places you normally won’t visit. Either the kid would embrace it and move forward or would decide that a tour life is not for him or her.
- College Prep - College coaches in top tennis schools not only look at UTR but ITF ranking as well. For very elite programs, top 100 ITF ranking along with ATP and WTA ranking is a must.
- Life Ready - I can promise you that your kid would be uncomfortable. And if they go through this, they will learn how to survive in face of some adversity. They may hate it now but will later appreciate it.
- Cultural Learning - We are not on vacation. But that said, if we have time we try to do one or two fun sightseeing things if possible,
- Slam Possibility – It is the only pathway to play junior slams unless awarded wild cards. Players from Dallas in recent years have followed this pathway to slams with even a Wimbledon junior winner come out of the Metroplex.
Travelling in ITF is hard as it takes a while to get used to the environment. A lot of these tournaments are in developing world. If you view what should happen with US lenses, days would be bad. Kids that go with the flow do better. There are of course tournaments in US but the entry cutoffs are very high.
Anirban Dutta is the Co-Founder of Tennis Wizard. He is a former NCAA DI College player and assistant coach, minority owner of tennis club & academy, USTA TX board member, USTA National Pro Circuit committee member. He has two teenagers playing ITF juniors.