Life on tour for the players just inside the Top 100 isn’t all what you think it is. As we lead up to the Australian Open, the following article is a little reminder that if you head out to the back courts during qualifying or early rounds, you will see guys playing to put food on the table.
Below is a great read about world number 92 Mike Russell published on Forbes.
In July Michael Russell won a tennis tournament in Manta, Ecuador, logging 8,628 miles just to get there and back. It was one of his best performances all year and the victory netted him $5,000, yet he barely broke even on the week-long venture. Welcome to the bizarre and trying world of professional tennis.
Russell is the 92nd ranked player in the world. As one of the hundred best players in his sport, he makes a comfortable living, but he doesn’t have millions of advertising dollars pouring in, not like jet-setting Roger Federer. His lifetime prize money ($2.1 million earned over 15 years) suggests a life of extravagance, but that figure ignores the expenses required to play professionally, which Russell estimated at $75,000 last year alone. Travel soaked up $35,000. Taxes ate up another significant portion of the $75,000. Even racket stringing constituted a significant expense. Up to $300 a tournament, the stringing jobs he needed over the year added up to about $9,000. With expenses so high, the men and women ranked outside the top 100 often struggle to scrape by on tour.
Russell spoke to FORBES from his hotel room in Montreal, where he was competing in the qualifying tournament for the Rogers Cup, about the financial reality of playing pro tennis. He made $210,000 in prize money over the past year, earning an additional $60,000 in sponsorships and exhibitions. Federer, the gold standard in tennis (down to the gilded accents on his Wimbledon shoes and bag), pocketed a cool $45 million in sponsorship money during the same period.
As the sport has become more physical and competitive due to better racket technology, slowed court surfaces and unparalleled athleticism (looking at you, Nadal), players are paying more to get a leg up on their opponents. Expect that trend to continue. “The top four players not only have a coach, but also a physio, a doctor, a hitting partner with them. Four, five, six people on their payroll,” Russell said. Unfortunately, hiring a tennis SWAT team would bankrupt the vast majority of pros. At most tournaments, Russell must adopt a bootstrapper’s mentality: finding the best hotel deals, sharing an on-site masseuse with other players, working frequent flyer miles and other perks, and so on.