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Tennis Explained: How The Tour Ticks

Learn the basics of the ATP Tour
January 21, 2023
Andrew Eichenholz/ATP Tour
By ATP Staff

New to the game of tennis? Our Tennis Explained series will quickly bring you up to speed with all you need to know to fully enjoy the sport. This primer will provides an overview of the ATP Tour.

How To Tour

How many tournaments are there around the world?
The 2023 ATP Tour calendar includes more than 60 events in nearly 30 countries. 

How do players decide which tournaments to enter?
Far far from a carefree jaunt around the globe, a number of factors go into a player’s schedule on the ATP Tour.

The first consideration is whether a player’s Pepperstone ATP Ranking will earn them a place in either the main draw or the tournament’s qualifying draw. Other factors include Pepperstone ATP Rankings points and prize money on offer. With all things being relatively equal, players can then choose their  destination based on which city they would prefer to play in.

Learn more about the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in the next section.

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How many levels of tournaments are there?
There are four levels of tour-level tournaments — three on the ATP Tour, plus the Grand Slams.

The ATP Tour includes ATP 250, ATP 500 and ATP Masters 1000 events — the categories denoting the number of Pepperstone ATP Rankings points awarded to the champion. Grand Slams award 2,000 points to the winner.

Learn The Game
Inside 'The Show'

What are the different surfaces players compete on? How is the nature of the game different on each surface?
ATP Tour events span hard courts, clay courts and grass courts.

Hard courts are generally a more neutral surface. Clay courts, with their slower and higher bounces, lead to longer baseline rallies. Grass courts, with lower and faster bounces, often produce quicker points.

Even within each surface, court conditions can differ from tournament to tournament. You will often hear players discussing the changes in speeds as they travel from event to event.

Do some players have more success on a particular surface? 
Most players have a favoured surface, some to a greater extent than others. Power hitters typically prefer hard or grass courts, while baseline grinders are often stronger on clay.

I've seen players compete indoors and outdoors. Why?
The ATP Tour offers both indoor and outdoor events, with the bulk of the indoor tournaments taking place late in the year during the winter months in the Northern hemisphere.

Each player makes his own decision as to which events to prioritise, based on his preferred playing conditions.

What does a player's day look like at a tournament? What resources are available to players on site?
After arriving on site, there are a number of ways for players to spend their time before and after competition. They can eat at the player dining area, relax in the player lounge, work out in the fitness centre and much more. Medical staff are also on hand for any necessary treatment.

Just like the many spectators that flock to ATP Tour events, many players are tennis fans too! It is very common to see players supporting their friends and countrymen from the stands, often in the personal box of the player they are supporting.

What do players use ice baths for?
Like in any sport, recovery is a crucial part of success in tennis — and that's where ice baths come into play. While they may be unpleasant, post-match or post-workout ice baths can help reduce inflammation and swelling in the body, relieve sore muscles and increase blood flow, among other benefits.

How do players practise?
There are a number of ways to practise, and each player has a routine that works for them. Common activities include rallying and playing practise points, as well as hitting drills with a coach feeding balls.

A practice session during a tournament week will look much different than one during the offseason or during a training block, with the players seeking to preserve as much energy as possible during competition weeks.

Do players share the same locker room?
Yes, typically the players share a locker room, with separate rooms for men and women at joint events.

At the year-end Nitto ATP Finals — for which only the Top 8 players in the world qualify — players have the privilege of their own personal locker rooms, adorned with their picture.

How do players mingle with each other at tournaments?
Players can spend time behind the scenes and out of the heat of competition in the dining and lounge areas, where the relaxed vibe belies the high-stakes nature of the on-court action.

Do players ever spend time as tourists in different tournament cities?
Tournaments may be business trips, but that doesn’t mean there’s no time to be a tourist! Players often take advantage of the ATP Tour’s worldwide nature by exploring various cities when time allows, typically on off days before or after an event.

At the 2023 United Cup, for example, Rafael Nadal and Team Spain visited Sydney Harbour before their opening match. Other famous locations ATP Tour stars have visited include Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Christ The Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and many more.

Who do players travel with on the road?
Each player has his own travelling team, which can change depending on the week. Aside from family members or significant others, other members of a players’ travelling party can include tennis coaches, fitness coaches, physiotherapists and mental performance specialists.

How does anti-doping work in tennis?
Using urine tests and blood tests, anti-doping officials randomly test athletes after matches — and, occasionally, out of competition — in order to maintain the competitive integrity of the sport.

How To Climb The Pepperstone ATP Rankings

How do the Pepperstone ATP Rankings work?
The Pepperstone ATP Rankings award players points based on their results at professional events throughout the world, with the biggest hauls on offer at ATP Tour events and the Grand Slams. The deeper a player advances at an event, the more points they earn.

The Pepperstone ATP Rankings update every Monday and reflect points earned during the past 52 weeks of play.

FAQs: Pepperstone ATP Rankings

What is the difference between different tournament levels? How many points can a player earn at each level?
The ATP 250, ATP 500 and ATP Masters 1000 events are all named for the number of Pepperstone ATP Rankings points earned by their champion. Grand Slam winners receive 2,000 points.

For reference, Carlos Alcaraz finished the 2022 season as World No. 1 with 6,820 points, followed by Rafael Nadal with 6,020 points.

How does a player climb the Pepperstone ATP Rankings?
Players earn points for winning matches, with the points awarded depending on the level of each tournament. A higher ranking helps players earn entry into bigger events, allowing a player to continue to work his way up the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

What is the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin?
The Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, which is updated at the conclusion of each individual match during the season, is essentially a version of the rankings specific to a calendar year.

Turin is the site of the prestigious Nitto ATP Finals, where the Top 8 qualifying singles players and doubles teams compete at a year-end showcase.

Each January, the Race starts fresh as player jockey for a place in Turin.

What does it mean to defend points?
When a player earns Pepperstone ATP Rankings points at a tournament, he must “defend” those points the following year at the same event. This is because the Pepperstone ATP Rankings are calculated on a 52-week rolling basis, and points from the previous year’s events fall off the rankings once the event is played again.

Understanding The Draw

What is a draw?
A draw is simply the knockout tournament bracket that determines the matchups at an event. It is just like any other tournament, like the knockout stages of football’s World Cup or March Madness in NCAA basketball.

When and how are draws made?
A few days before a tournament begins, the draw is released. Draws are all done by hand, conducted by a team that includes the ATP Supervisor at the event.

All draws are random, outside of predetermined slots for seeds.

What does it mean if a player is seeded?
The highest-ranked players in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings at a given event earn seeds, which prevent them from playing each other until the later rounds of the tournament. To ensure a balanced draw, seeded players are distributed throughout and the top two seeds are always placed in opposite halves, meaning they can only meet if both reach the final.

What is a qualifier?
A qualifier earns his place in a tournament’s main draw by advancing through its qualifying tournament. At each tournament, a few places are held open for qualifiers to increase the opportunity for players whose Pepperstone ATP Ranking is not high enough to earn direct entry into the event.

What is a lucky loser?
A lucky loser is a player who sneaks into the main draw despite losing in the final round of the qualifying event. This can occur when a main-draw player pulls out of an event due to an injury or other reason.

What is a wild card?
A wild card is a player who is granted direct entry into an event’s main draw by tournament organisers. Wild cards are often given to star players who have dropped in the rankings or young, local players whose Pepperstone ATP Ranking is not high enough for direct entry. 

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