Introduction: Competition profiles of future successful female tennis players are limited to anecdotal evidence and case reports. Consequently, Federations are challenged in providing empirically supported recommendations to players that align with previous research on ranking trajectories that distinguish future top 100 (T100) players. Accordingly, this study differentiated the international competition engagement of elite (T100 and top 250 [T250]) female tennis players during their youth (13-18y).
Methods: Historical tournament data was analysed for 258 female players from their international age of eligibility. Players were categorised into groups based on peak professional ranking of T100 or 101-250. “Fast” or “slow” achieving T100 players were determined according to the years taken to achieve a professional T100 status. International tournament and match volumes were quantified for junior and professional categories, along with tournament distribution (i.e., days between tournaments and consecutive tournaments). Three categories of junior tournaments were defined alongside four categories of professional events. A two-way (age x ranking group) analysis of variance (ANOVA) determined the effects of respective age (13-18y) and ranking group (T100 vs. T250) on competition engagement metrics.
Results: Significant interaction effects for age and ranking group were observed for all junior and professional category tournaments (p<0.05). Significantly higher junior tournament volumes existed for T100 compared to T250 players at ages 14 and 15 (p<0.05), with greater professional tournament volumes at ages 17 and 18 (p<0.05). Significant interaction effects for match volumes showed higher engagement from T100 compared to T250 players at ages 14-16y (p<0.05). Overall match counts peaked in mid-late adolescence (i.e., 16-18y) and ranged from ≈80-110 annual matches. Significant main effects for age revealed decreased days between tournaments and increased consecutive tournaments at 15y (p<0.05). Specifically, an average of <3 weeks existed between tournament exposures during late adolescence.
Discussion: Accordingly, increased volume and density of tournament-play exists from age 14y in future professional female tennis players. This would likely restrict opportunities for increased dedicated training loads as recommended in holistic athlete development pathways. Further, faster achieving T100 players contest higher-quality junior and professional tournaments at earlier ages. These distinctive tournament characteristics can underpin elite pathway scheduling recommendations provided by many national tennis federations. Specifically, improvements to competition pathways for elite players may exist through these understandings of “fast” and “slow” developing T100 tennis players.
Impact and Application to the Field
- •Competition schedules can be used in combination with ranking milestones to inform player selection strategies and funding from national Federations.
- •Focused training exposures within the athlete development matrix from tennis Federations can be explicitly provided alongside recommended tournament periodisation that is conducive to future success.
Conflict of Interest Statement: Four of the five authors are currently employed by Tennis Australia.