Being a tennis fan can be extremely overwhelming when you have to keep up with a multitude of matches every day for an entire year.
But with significant reforms to the calendar, it makes it easier to follow and watch the most important events, the biggest matches, and the world's best players simply sticking to a particular tennis tournament.
In this article, we'll look at the different tournament categories in tennis whilst also highlighting their competitiveness and their level on the tennis ladder.
Grand Slam tournaments allow the highest number of playing fields, with 128 players entering the main draw. Grand Slams offer 2000 ranking points to the winning player in the singles competition, which is the most of any tournament level.
Men and women earn equal prize money at all four major tournaments. Grand Slams are played across three surfaces: hard, clay, and grass courts.
This is a special tournament in that only the eight best players in a calendar year qualify and compete in a round-robin format pitting two groups of four up until the semifinal when knockouts take effect.
This season-ending finale is played in the final week of the tennis calendar and is played exclusively indoors on a hard court.
ATP Masters 1000/WTA 1000
The WTA aligned its tournament categories from this level to match those of the ATP since 2021. The number of tournaments in this category is nine across both ATP and WTA tours. Some of the tournaments are held jointly during the course of the season, such as Indian Wells, Miami Open, Madrid Open, Italian Open, and Cincinnati Masters.
The Masters/WTA 1000 category features a 56-player draw, although five of those tournaments have an expanded 96-player draw as of 2023, such as Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, and Shanghai, and will be played over a two-week period. Tournaments such as the Canadian Open and Cincinnati will also follow suit by 2025.
As the category implies, 1000 ranking points are on offer to the winning player in this category and are played primarily on hard and clay courts.
This is the fourth-highest level of the tennis tournament category. The 500 level has 13 ATP tournaments and 12 on the WTA side and is played across four continents. The ATP and WTA 500 tournaments are played on three different surfaces: hard, clay, and grass.
The winner collects a maximum of 500 points (480 on the WTA). Depending on the tournament, the entry list tends to feature a 32 or 48-singles-player draw.
This is the lowest level of Tour level tennis on both the ATP and WTA tours. It offers a maximum of 250 ranking points (280 on the WTA). There are 38 tournaments on the ATP side, while 30 are on the slate on the WTA.
The 250 category has the highest number of slots on the tennis calendar to give lesser-ranked players the chance to build their ranking and make an adequate amount of prize money on a consistent basis. It features between 28 to 32 players in the main draw.
ATP Challenger/WTA 125 Series
The ATP Challenger is the second tier of men's tennis after the ATP Tour. The women's equivalent for this category is the WTA 125 series. This category acts as a pathway to forging a career in the upper echelons of the sport and bridges the gap between ITF tennis and ATP Tour levels.
Following an overhaul of the tournaments system in 2023, points accrued in this category will be based on the tournament's code for the men's (Challenger 175, 125, 100, 75, 50), while the women's will have a standard point format for all 125 series (160 points to the winner).
ITF World Tour
The ITF World Tour is the entry-level staircase in the world of the tennis profession. Known as the Futures circuit until 2019, the ITF Tour underwent a major reform in 2019 announcing significant changes in its rankings system while simultaneously looking to improve the financial situation of junior players who are climbing the transition ladder to the senior level.
There are over 1000 tennis tournaments in this category all over the globe. The men's tour comprises two prize money levels of tournaments - M15 ($15,000) and M25 ($25,000), while the women's has five prize money levels - W15 ($15,000), W25 ($25,000), W60 ($60,000), W80 ($80,000), W100 ($100,000).
Results at this level are also factored in the ATP and WTA rankings allowing players to leap into the Challenger and WTA 125 series and eventually the long road to becoming a top star on the ATP and WTA tours.