Whilst the top echelon of tennis players are amongst the best paid sportsmen and women in the world, many of those playing further down the rankings are finding it tough going financially during the global shutdown.
Both the ATP and WTA tours made the decision to suspend all tournaments in early March due to the global pandemic, and that hiatus has now been suspended until early June at the earliest, with every likelihood that it could continue into the summer months if the present world health crisis continues to escalate.
And that could have serious consequences for the hundreds of players who spend their time competing in the lower ranked tournaments, and who will have no prize money to boost their meagre earnings.
In fact, whilst tennis is a highly lucrative sport at the top, with the winners of the Australian Open in January both taking home US $2.5 million apiece, a report in 2018 by the International Review Panel concluded that only 250 – 350 players a year earned enough to break-even in the sport.
That same report identified the lack of financial depth in tennis as to one of the key reasons for match fixing and illegal betting activity amongst lower ranked players, many of whom are struggling to scratch a living from what they earn legitimately on the court.
The problem is that players who are reliant on their court earnings only, and do not have the rich sponsorship deals of a Roger Federer or a Serena Williams, have a lot of expenses that they have to pay from the own pockets, such as the salary of a coach, travel, and board and lodging. And, whilst many of these costs have also now stopped, they have no money coming in the door either.
Many of these players work on the side, or earn money from coaching as well, but these sources of income have now been denied to them as well.
A number of them, like India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran, are having to dip into their savings, whilst others are reliant on family and friends for hand-outs. There are even reports some are struggling to put food on the table at the moment.
One player who has responded to the crisis is Sofia Shapatava from Georgia, currently ranked 375th in the world. She has started a petition asking the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to help lower level professionals, warning that many of them will not be able to support their everyday lives and then come back to playing again after months without competing.
So far, her petition has attracted nearly 1,400 signatures.