In 2015, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic pocketed a cool $21,592,125 in singles prize money alone, playing just 16 tournaments.
Taro Daniel, an American-born Japanese player, capped off his 2015 season by peeking into the Top 100 for the first time. He toughed out 31 tournaments last season, nearly twice as many as Djokovic played but made just $137,483 in comparison. Although he finished 2015 just a mere 95 spots behind the Serb, he made a meek 0.6 percent of Djokovic’s earnings that year.
As we travel further down the ATP Emirates Ranking totem pole, the earnings –or rather, lack of—become increasingly pathetic.
A prime example of these poverty-like earnings is displayed through Tom Jomby, who currently sits at No. 341 in the singles rankings after 20 months on tour. Jomby, a native of France and former two-time ITA All American at the University of Kentucky, made $12,235 in singles prize money in 2015. He played 12 more tournaments than Djokovic did but made a measly 0.05 percent of the Serb’s earnings.
While talented players such as Jomby and Daniel dream of making millions and driving BMWs, they’ll be more likely to be travelling in an RV playing Futures and Challengers like Dustin Brown prior to him making a name for himself by defeating Rafael Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon.
The monetary struggles that the majority of professional tennis players experience are due to the extremely low prize money payouts at tournaments.
On the pro tour, there are three categories of tournaments: Futures, Challengers and ATP World Tour. In order for players to receive ATP ranking points, players must start at the bottom-feeder tournaments. These are Futures, which are further broken down into F1 and F2 tournaments, with purses from $10,000 to $15,000.
In a F1 tournament, the unfortunate first-round losers will be sent home with just $85.25 after taxes, while the winner is awarded a meek $1,300. But, subtract the 30 percent foreign tax and that leaves the worn-out champion with $900 to cover travel, food and accommodation for that week of play.
Yep, players are 100 percent responsible for covering all their expenses, from hotel rooms to racquet stringing.
According to The Tennis Times, the average expenses of a player on the ITF (Futures) or Challenger Tour range from approximately $40,000 to $70,000. The abysmal amount of prize money available at Future and Challengers (maximum purse of $50, 000) leaves the majority of aspiring professional players in debt at the end of the year.
Hassan Ndayishimiye, a former Top 30 ITF junior who now plays at Troy University in Alabama, tried his luck on the pro circuit before taking his talents to the NCAA.
“I had to start a ‘Go Fund Me’ account,” Ndayishimiye, a Burundi native said. “I couldn’t afford a coach to travel with me, so I was going alone to all the tournaments. I would stay in hostels… Whatever I could do to cut down the costs.”
Ndayishimiye, who reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 785 in 2015 before returning to college, said players from Europe often had more financial support than players like himself from poorer countries. He said this was a huge advantage for other players who could afford to travel weekly and rack up ATP points, while he struggled to find the funds to just play a handful of tournaments.
Ndayishimiye said he would play both the singles and the doubles draw at each tournament in hopes to make more money. Playing two draws in a week is a potential 10 matches, which can have obvious wear and tear on a player’s body.
The pitiful amount of prize money given out at ITF and Challenger tournaments is wildly discouraging, disheartening and puts certain players at a clear disadvantage.
Even the umpires at the events make more money in a week than the players do, according to an article in World Tennis Magazine, which reported that umpires get paid about $1000 a tournament with room and meals covered by the tournament.
While the prize money at the Grand Slams increases every year – Wimbledon increased their purse by approximately 7 percent in 2015 – the bottom tier of tournaments still suffer.
The ATP is too top heavy with its prize money. Purses on the ITF and Challenger circuits need to be drastically increased or, at the very least, the players’ necessary expenses such as room, food and racquet-stringing should be covered by the tournament. Increased purses or reduced tournament fees will keep players, especially those from poorer countries such as Ndayishimiye, from abandoning their attainable goals.
If ATP can afford to pay umpires $1000 a week for deciding if a ball is in or out, then it can surely play its players appropriately.