8 min read
When Li Tu
(UTR Rating 14.00*) began competing again last year, he was looking to get his taste for competition back. He would get a lot more than he could have ever expected: Over the last 15 months on the
UTR Pro Tennis Tour, he has played 72 matches, winning 67 of them.
The Australian's improvement has been on a steady arc from his first Universal Tennis pro match. In July 2020 in his hometown of Adelaide, Tu won all four of his Pool B matches in what was then called the UTR Pro Tennis Series. He’d win 16 matches in a row before being bumped to Pool A at his fifth event in October in Brisbane.
The 25-year-old won his first Universal Tennis pro title in December in Melbourne and his second trophy the following week in Sydney. His 2020 Universal Tennis pro record across eight events was 28-2.
“It was perfect—it was exactly what I needed,” Tu said. “I was training a fair bit, so I was kind of just getting back into it. There’s a difference between training and getting some matches under your belt. It was so good that the format was round-robin. I was just keen that, no matter what, you get four to six matches every week.”
MAKING WAVES DOWN UNDER
The Australian’s dominant play on the PTT caught the attention of Tennis Australia, and he was granted a wild card into an ATP 250 in Melbourne in January 2021, as well as the Australian Open, where he made his Grand Slam debut by pushing Feliciano Lopez to four sets.
“I was really happy with myself with that I was able to perform because, in the past, I have had experiences of being really nervous and not being able to play properly in the big moments,” Tu said. “I want to be really grateful about how that happened, but I want to keep moving my career forward and try not to make that my highlight. I’m going keep writing my story.”
Just ahead of his Grand Slam appearance, Tu had won the UTR PTT Australia Men’s $20K Event 1 in Bendigo complete with a victory over established pro Marc Polmans in the final.
“It's an opportunity for me to play against some of the better players that I probably wouldn't be able to play against,” Tu said. “All of a sudden Universal Tennis comes around and the likes of Thanasi Kokkinakis, Polmans, and Alex Bolt were playing and I had the chance to play these guys.”
GAINING NEW PERSPECTIVE
Tu is in the midst of what he calls his “second career.” After being a promising junior, Tu left the sport behind for college and coaching. In 2018, he started the M2 Academy in Adelaide with his coach and business partner Ben Milner. Working with young juniors got him inspired to try pro tennis again.
“I just needed some time to mature and to get a bit of a different perspective,” Tu said, admitting that losses used to get to him. “I think that coaching really helped me.”
Universal Tennis also gave him a new perspective along with a ton of match play.
“Universal Tennis not only helps me as a player but also as a coach,” Tu said. “I remember talking about UTR Rating three years ago and how college coaches were using it. It's also been pretty cool that while I was not playing, I ran a Universal Tennis tournament as well, and so I've got insight from both perspectives.”
LIGHTING UP THE PRO TOUR
“I was doing pretty well, and it was a good chance to make some money and get some good match play in,” Tu said. “I’ve been training at home and then playing PTTs and coaching for the last six months.”
In August, Tu traveled to Monastir, Tunisia, for a string of five ITF Pro Circuit M15 tournaments all held at the same resort. Excited to compete abroad, Tu was armed with a great mindset and plenty of quality competition under his belt.
“I view it as a second chance this time,” Tu said from Tunisia. “I feel like everything is just a bonus. I'm just here to enjoy it, and if it works out, great; if not, I can hold my head up high and be like I tried my best.”
In his very first tournament in Tunisia, he won eight matches to capture his first career ITF M15 title as a qualifier. He would win his second ITF M15 three weeks later, followed by a third title last week to close out his Tunisian stretch. He left Africa with a 24-2 ITF record. He also won two doubles events with different partners, Jeremy Beale and Ajeet Rai.
While the ITF tournaments provide ATP ranking points, the winner of an M15 gets $2,160 compared to the $3,600 that UTR PTT champions earn. Tu is not slowing down as he next looks to balance out his upcoming schedule with both ITF and PTT events.
"Being able to play PTTs and train, compete, save money, and then go play abroad, it’s game-changing," he said.
•UTR Ratings and Rankings as of 9 a.m. EST, Sept. 28, 2021.