I read somewhere recently that just 336 Men and 253 Women Tennis Professionals made more money than they spent playing tennis last year, interesting statistic. How many Tennis Professionals does this mean didn't make enough to survive without financial assistance from family and friends ?
And it's important to not that just because a tennis professional made more than he or she spent it still doesn't mean they made a 'living' out of the game.
I have written numerous articles on what I believe is wrong with tennis and I don't just mean the coaching side of things, that's just one issue. I have often written of tennis being a 'needle in a haystack' type of sport as the chances of 'success' are like searching for that needle. So what is 'success' ? Is it the dollar value at the end of a season for a player or is it tournament wins ?
Filip Krajinovic of Serbia will finish 2014 as the player ranked 100 and his singles prize money for the year was just under $170,000, not a bad effort. However if you take away expenses plus what the Tax Man requires then the figure is probably what a Council Worker earned. Novak Djokovic earned over 14 million this year, big difference from his lowly ranked countryman who is ranked 99 places behind him.
So where's the problem ? Easy one to answer, Sponsorship dollars. The big companies want their name and money put toward the big tournaments and they want the winner to receive something most people would not even win from a Lottery. Big egotistical stuff. The issue with this however is that the next Novak Djokovic is probably running around on court in an obscure clay court event somewhere with perhaps a few hundred dollars to his name.
So how does the sport expect him to keep going ? It doesn't. Tennis simply wants the natural 'pecking order' to do it's natural thing, weed out the good from the rest, nature will take care of itself. But what about the players who bloom late ? What about players such as Victor Estrella Burgos from the Dominican Republic who just became competitive at age 34 ?? Now here is a player who no doubt would had to have received financial backup from somewhere other than tennis as he has been playing for 15 years and earned just over $600,000. Do the sums on that, how's that Council Worker's wage looking now over the same time frame, not too shabby ?
Big companies aren't interested in keeping guys like Victor in a 'job' in obscure little tournaments that are in fact the breeding ground of the next generation of players. But these players may just prove to be the World's best in the years to come.
So does tennis need players like Victor at age 34 playing the game ? You betcha, just look at the interest every time Tommy Haas takes the court, especially against the young players. Youth vs Experience is possibly one of the greatest contests in World Sport. So if guys like Victor have been knocking around in obscure events for the past 15 years because their ranking has been too low to make it into the tournaments that pay the big dollars then how do they survive ? Just.
Does a player who wins a Grand Slam really require a bank deposit of over two million dollars ? If a player is good enough to win a major then surely his endorsements will make up the 'shortfall' ? If a tournament such as the Australian Open cut just $200,000 from it's $30,000,000 of sponsorship and used it to pay the lesser credentialed players more it may just be the difference in them being able to afford to fly to the next tournament.
Grand Slam events can afford to offer players a prize that can almost guarantee them a few months' travel expenses especially at the qualifier level.
If a player wins four Main Draw matches he takes home $250,000, I think that's outrageous. Shave it to $150,000 and even out the rest of the prize money dispersion, it's still big dollars. Reward a Qualifier a handsome sum because he is good enough to be a professional and he may just be the player along with Estrella Burgos who may just hang around the game long enough to become a quality player.
Tennis is no longer a young man's game, at last count there were only two players under 23 years of age in the Top 100 Men's Rankings. The average age of the top ten is 28, give or take a year, hence my example of Estrella Burgos. So it is the obligation of the sport to keep players in it for as long as it is necessary for them to realize their potential.
Let's face it, if a player remains fit he or she will only get better and in particular, smarter, Tommy Haas is testimony to that. At age 35 Haas beat Djokovic in Miami in straight sets in 2013 and at age 36 he beat Wawrinka in three sets in Rome in 2014. Experience? You can't beat it.
So as much as tennis rewards the top 50 players in the World it really does nothing for the rest, how's the lyrics from the Midnight Oil song ? 'The rich get richer, the poor get the picture'.
Tennis players are maturing later so the older players still have much to offer and they may not do anything in the game other than survive until they are over age 30.
Yes I realize that Tommy Haas was a former top ten player however my point is he is basically getting better as he gets older, it's that sort of sport. Others can follow his lead, they simply need enough dollars to stay in the game.
It's a tough one, no real answers but handing out $2.5 Million to the players who defied the needle in the haystack odds may not be the best thing for the game. Cap the prize money and spread it more evenly, surely this makes more sense ?
So what of the smaller events ? That's even tougher as sponsorship is minimal but rather than the Governing Bodies boasting about their ever increasing bank accounts how about they release some funds and support the smaller events more ? And how do they get it back ? Simple, get the players to give back to the sport.
Once their prize money hits a certain figure then surely these players can afford to reimburse the game that made them rich. University students do it don't they ? How about sportsmen do the same ?
That next ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Event may not necessarily be won by a 25 year old. It may in fact be won by a 33 year old who has stopped worrying about where his next meal will come from and concentrated more on his experienced game........