The glossy spotlight of the Australian Open may have stolen all the tennis headlines last month, but that was far from the only competitive tennis being played in January.
As top-level tennis takes a breather after the drama of the first Grand Slam of 2023, players operating at other levels of the sport continue to embark on a relentless schedule.
ITF WORLD TENNIS TOUR
Just below the elite level of the game, the ITF World Tennis Tour is a thriving circuit that has 11 women’s tournaments taking place this week and nine additional men’s events, with locations from a French draw in Grenoble France to tournaments in Sharm El Sheikh and Bath in the UK.
Prize money is relatively modest and breaking even financially is a challenge for all players taking part, but the chance is there to change to career with some breakthrough wins.
That opportunity has been showcased by Britain’s Sonay Kartal, who was ranked around 900 in the world this time last year before winning four ITF World Tennis Tour events that are part of the LTA’s Performance Competitions Calendar in Britain.
That propelled her ranking in double quick time and last July, she made her debut in the main draw at Wimbledon before going on to play qualifying at the US Open and the Australian Open.
“It has been an amazing year for me,” 21-year-old Kartal began.
“To be around 900 in the rankings a year ago to a position where I am up to 200 now is incredible and there is no doubt that those ITF events in the UK started the ball rolling for me.
“Playing competitive matches is so important and these new tournaments in this country have been a massive boost to all the British players.
“If it wasn’t for these new events put on by the LTA in the UK, I would not be where I am in the rankings now, it’s as simple as that.
“At the start of last year, I was not getting into the main draw of these event, but winning some of them changed everything for me both in terms of my ranking and my mentality.
“The standard in these ITF events is so high. The majority of matches I played last year were against opponents ranked in the top 300 and players are coming from all over the world to play in these events because the standard is high and they all want to be a part of it.
“You look at America and they have so many tournaments each week, which creates great competition and strength in depth with their players.
“Hopefully we will now start to get something similar in Britain and we are already seeing it as our players are doing well in the rankings on the women’s and men’s side now.”
KARTAL BREAKS THROUGH
Goals at the start of last year changed dramatically as Kartal rose up the rankings and now she is aiming for the stars.
“My ambition in January 2022 was to try and break into the top 500,” she added.
“I did that quickly and then the next goal was 300, which I achieved by May. Then I played some big grass courts events and made my debut at Wimbledon.
“Amid all that, I got a call-up to the Great Britain Billie Jean King Cup squad and that was an amazing experience in Prague.
“We were up against some top-class players, but we came so close to winning the tie and only lost in the deciding doubles, but it was such a great opportunity for me.
“Now I want more of it. When you have experienced top-level competition, you want that every week and after everything I achieved last year, the top 100 in the WTA rankings has to be my aim.”
Kartal initially shot to prominence as she was on the other side of the net in early footage of Emma Raducanu making her way in the game as a young child.
Now she is making her own waves in the game and she is one to watch in 2023.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) Seniors Tour features more than 500 tournaments a year, played in over 70 nations, across six continents.
It can be a daunting prospect for the amateur player to work through which event to pick and go it alone. With an ACTC membership, you don’t need to. You’ll have the ACTC community in your player box, cheering you on.
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