Greetings About.com readers,
I just returned from playing in the first two ITTF Pro Tour tournaments for 2007, the Croatian Open in Zagreb, and the Gorenje Slovenian Open in Velenje. If there was one thing that was clearly visible from both of these tournaments it is that the ITTF Pro Tour is in the middle of a boom period.
Huge EntriesAt the Croatian Open, a total of 270 men and 178 women were present, whilst at the Gorenje Slovenian Open 224 men and 165 women were on duty. In fact, in Slovenia the maximum quota of athletes entered and some players actually had to have their entries denied due to the full capacity. It is not just the quantity of players that are playing on the Pro Tour that is staggering, the quality is also unbelievably high. In Croatia all of the top 12 and 31 of the top 42 world ranked men were playing, and in the womens draw the top 8 women and 25 out of the top 40 were on show. In Slovenia, 20 of the top 45 world ranked men were playing, and 30 of the top 46 women turned out.
The structure of the ITTF Pro Tour tournaments is not conducive for the lower ranked players progressing very far in the tournament. You have to scrimp and scrape to work your way up in the tournament and it is extremely difficult to even qualify for the main draw; which is the way it should be in my mind. Each tournament has 32 seeded players, and the 1st round of the tournament is the round of 64. This means that the remaining 32 places go to qualifiers who win their way through round robin groups, and in many cases preliminary rounds also. This means that only 32 players out of approximately between 150-250 qualifiers actually even make it to the first round of the competition.
Top Level OpponentsThe quality and depth on show at the ITTF Pro Tour tournaments simply has to be seen, and preferably played against, to be believed. Virtually all of the players on show are members of their respective National teams and/or professional players. There are dozens of seriously good quality players that do not even qualify for the first round main draw, and the intense competition for a very limited number of positions on offer ensures that players are constantly trying to improve. This intense competition leaves table tennis in a very healthy state in my mind, and the general standard can only benefit across the board.
Expensive EntriesThe ITTF Pro Tour tournaments are really quite expensive too. In most cases the vast majority of players only play 2 or 3 singles matches, and with the official hospitality package at each tournament costing in excess of 100 Euro per person per day it makes you wonder why so many people compete at these tournaments. Whilst many National associations foot the bill for their players, there is a large quantity of players who pay for these tournaments out of their own pockets.
Why is the Pro Tour so Popular?So a good question to ask is why so many players flock to these tournaments when it costs so much and you can not be guaranteed of any more than 2 singles matches?
- I know from my own experience, there is nothing quite like the thrill of competing against the cream of the absolute crop and testing yourself against the best the sport has to offer.
- Also, players are often searching for good quality matches, rather than a high quantity of matches. The Pro Tour tournaments are an excellent way to gauge progress, winning matches, winning your round robin group, and even qualifying for the main draw are a sure sign that you are on the right track.
- You also get a serious buzz out of playing against different players from all over the world, against players who have tasted success at international, national, and/or professional club level on numerous occasions.
- Finally, it is quite thrilling to play in a situation that you usually only see on TV or DVDs. Each match is played of taraflex flooring, with professional lighting, controlled by 2 umpires, and then you even get the fancy extras such as illuminated towel holders. Overall, you get a good feeling to know that you have the opportunity to play in a fully professional tournament.
ConclusionIn summary, the ITTF Pro Tours can be extremely rewarding and a great way to gain international experience and test yourself against the best players in the sport. On the other hand, the losses that so often come at these tournaments can leave you questioning yourself and putting yourself through some serious soul searching. Having said all that, the ITTF Pro Tour is well and truly thriving. This can only benefit the sport and keep it heading in the right direction.