The ITF Board of Directors has approved a major restructuring of professional tennis at its entry level ©ITF

The International Tennis Federation's (ITF) Board of Directors has approved a "major restructuring" of professional tennis at entry level.

It is hoped the changes will "radically reduce the number of professional players competing for Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women's Tennis Association (WTA) ranking points".

There will be fewer "truly professional players", the ITF said, with a new "Transition Tour" also set to be created in 2019.

A three-year Player Pathway Study into professional and junior tennis, which found that too many players are trying to compete on the professional circuit, prompted the changes.

This looked into improving players' entry into professional tennis and found that around 14,000 are competing among the full-time ranks.

Almost half of this number failed to earn any prize money.

It is hoped The Transition Tour will "better aid the transition from junior to professional tennis".

Tournaments will be held in a circuit structure through a re-jig of the $15,000 (£11,900/€13,900) Level I tournaments on the ITF Pro Circuit.

Players will compete for ITF entry points instead of ATP and WTA ranking points.

The ITF say they are aiming for 750 male and 750 female players in the professional group.

It is claimed that this new approach will "introduce a clearer and more effective professional pathway" and ensure that prize money levels at ITF Pro Circuit events allow more players to make a living from the professional game.

Players on the ITF Pro Circuit have already benefited from prize money increases in 2016 and 2017, with financial rewards increasing by around $1.5 million (£1.2 million/€1.4 million).

The restructuring is set to reduce the number of players competing for ATP and WTA ranking points ©Getty Images
The restructuring is set to reduce the number of players competing for ATP and WTA ranking points ©Getty Images

The ITF will now work closely with its member nations, the ATP and the WTA, on the implementation of the Transition Tour, including confirmation of the technical requirements, tournament schedule and new ranking point structure.

"The ITF's Player Pathway study is the most comprehensive review of professional tennis ever undertaken and has highlighted the considerable challenges at the base of our game," said ITF President David Haggerty.

"More than 14,000 players competed at professional level last year which is simply too many.

"Radical changes are needed to address the issues of transition between the junior and professional game, playing affordability, and tournament cost.

"We have already taken an important step forward by increasing prize money levels at ITF Pro Circuit tournaments.

"The next step is to ensure the structure of professional tennis is fit for purpose through a targeted job opportunities approach that will create a smaller group of true professional players.

"At the same time it is imperative that we do not reduce the chance for players of any nation or background to start their journey towards the top 100.

"We believe that the introduction of a new entry level to the professional pathway will allow players to take the first steps towards becoming a future champion within a more targeted and affordable circuit structure.

"These changes will also ensure that players and their support team members can understand and measure their progress."

The changes could also be seen as a way of tackling match-fixing in tennis, a particular concern at lower levels where players struggle to win prize money.