From memory my first tennis hero Bjorn Borg from Sweden won around $23,000 pounds when he won Wimbledon in 1976. A lot of money back then. Borg went on to officially win just over three and a half million in prize money which was perhaps a tenth of what he really earned over the course of his career.
The amount that the Swede made through exhibition tournaments dwarfed his real earnings and it is documented in his book which is worth a read, fascinating book. His endorsements also were nothing short of monumental so in reality back then in the 70's what a player earned from playing tennis was in fact rather misleading. It was what they made 'on the side' that was far more lucrative.
In 1982 my second hero of tennis Mats Wilander who took the mantle of my inspiration to play the game due to Borg's sudden retirement made slightly more than Borg in his remarkable win in Paris. As a 17 year old Mats picked up around $63,000 US dollars to go with his $13,000 that he picked up in a semi final loss to Gomez in the Italian Open semis that same year, a lead up tournament to the French Open.
The prize money that Wilander picked up in '82 for his exploits on the clay in Europe were no doubt life changing yet Mats has a 'real job' now days commentating plus teaching the game to the public. Now you are probably aware by now of my views on tennis coaches but a lesson with Mats now days would be worth every cent as he reached World number 1 in 1988 after his victory at the US Open that same year. I would be happy to part with a lot of money for some words of wisdom from a guy like Mats, it would have a ridiculous amount of substance.
I believe that Mats in his career earned around seven and a half million dollars and maybe double that in endorsements however as popular as Mats was he did not have the same 'Rock Star' appeal as Bjorn. I do not believe that Mats would have made anywhere near as much as Bjorn even though he played in a later era where prize money was beginning to escalate.
So to 1988, Mats won $275,000 US Dollars for winning the title in New York over Lendl and back then sure that was a lot of money but compared to 2015, well I wonder if some players actually lack the desire to get past the round of 16. I had a brief look at what the men earned this year in New York and I believe that three match victories took home around $400,000 US Dollars. Hey Mats how does that feel ??!
Yeah sure it's all about inflation and sponsorship, the list goes on but Novak and Roger are edging toward $100,000,000 each in prize money alone, you could double that at least in endorsements.
So why do tennis professionals keep earning more ? After all it's just a sport where you are engaged in an 'argument' with another player who is doing his best to win the argument as best he can. Sometimes the argument can be entertaining, sometimes it's as boring as watching paint dry depending on the styles but no matter what the outcome is it's all about who can come up with enough answers when the questions are asked.
We can't forget also the sponsors who are throwing more and more dollars at the major tournaments who are all looking at new ways to get the public to buy their product. These guys love players like Novak and Roger who can stay out there for up to three or four hours against each other in the big matches and regularly give good air time to major companies.
Sorry I am getting off track here.
Guys like Thomas Berdych, Tommy Robredo and Feliciano Lopez do not have to win a major to be a 'successful' tennis player, they simply just have to win a few rounds in a major tournament. Easy ? Absolutely not, you have to be a brilliant tennis player to do that but I ask you this.
Does a player who is simply trying to make money out of tennis really have to do anything else but win some early rounds ? You don't have to win a major to be a millionaire.
It's perhaps why we have the new coaches of the game commanding anything up to $80 an hour to 'teach' a sport to a kid who's parents see the dollar signs of a professional tennis player and realize that winning tennis tournaments is not in fact a necessity.
All you have to do is win a few matches, only a handful of players win tournaments. It is not a necessity to be as hungry as the players of years gone by who earned peanuts yet strived for more than many do now days simply to survive.
Tennis prize money and costs for learning keep rising yet the success rate of a player is not improving. Do the sums on that......