Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tommy Paul (Probably) Makes Smart Decision in Turning Pro

It was just announced that 18 year old American and French Open junior champion Tommy Paul decided to forego playing college tennis and has decided to turn pro.  He had reportedly made a verbal commitment to the University of Georgia (a great tennis school), but must have changed his mind following his recent success playing Futures tournaments in Europe and in winning Roland Garros.

It's always interesting to see whether top American juniors elect to go pro or play in college, and there's clearly no one right answer that applies to everyone.  However, for someone who's been posting as good of results as Paul has lately, it seems like going straight to the pros is a wise decision.

He's currently at 451 in the world rankings, and that's without actually playing on tour as a full time professional.  It's preferable that a junior has at least some success at the pro level (even in futures) before turning pro, as opposed to merely having success against other juniors.  Paul recently won a couple of futures on clay in Europe, and reached the semis of another.  He also recently won a match against a borderline top 100 player.  Thus, it's clear Paul has done well playing low level professional tournaments, and he appears to be improving rapidly. 

This certainly doesn't mean Paul will turn into a successful ATP level player, as plenty of top juniors have failed to achieve anything on the pro tour.  However, Paul appears to have solid all around game that should translate well to the next level.  He already seems to have one of the best backhands of any American, and moves well around the court. 

More importantly he probably analyzed what college tennis could do for his game given that he wants to be a top professional, and concluded the answer was simply not enough.  While college has produced a few good professionals in the last decade or so, they are few and far between.  Further, the two most successful (Isner and Anderson) are both over 6'7'' and would probably have found success with their huge serves regardless of the route they took.  Steve Johnson was one of the best college players of all time, and it took him a few years to adjust to the ATP after spending 4 years at USC.

Recently, the results have been mixed at best for NCAA stars who have tried to transition to the pros.  NCAA champions Bradley Klahn and Blaz Rola have spent time in the top 100, but are hardly making much noise at the ATP level.  Marcos Giron turned pro after winning the 2014 NCAA title, and is outside of the top 400 in the world.  Dennis Novikov is hovering around 200 in the world after starring for UCLA a few years back.  Austin Krajicek has been a steady improver and is trying to make a run at the top 100 but unfortunately is currently stuck in a bit of a slump.

While many like to tout the advantages of playing college tennis for young Americans, for the very small number of truly elite prospects it appears the level of Division I competition simply may not be good enough to prepare them for life as a pro.  If it's still going to take a few years to adjust to the ATP Tour after spending time in college, it's fair to ask whether it's worth going to college in the first place.

Paul would have immediately been one of the best players in NCAA men's tennis (if not the best).  He's had junior/pro results that are similar to if not better than Noah Rubin, who just took 2nd in the NCAA tournament at Wake Forest after winning Wimbledon juniors the year before.  Rubin has also decided to turn pro following his Freshman year, likely realizing college tennis won't take his game any further.  Maybe Paul makes it big as a pro and maybe he doesn't, but its unlikely playing college tennis would have done much to better prepare him for the pro tour. 

He's clearly improving quickly on his own, and would be taking a risk of stunting his development by playing in college.  It's not easy out there for anyone trying to make it on the ATP tour, and Paul is part of a deep group of young Americans getting ready to make a run.  Like fellow young Americans Frances Tiafoe, Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov before him, he likely realized jumping straight in gives him his best chance to succeed down the road.

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