estoril

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The Not So Glamorous Life

Rafael Nadal set for return

This week, the best eight singles players in the world have converged on London for the ATP World Tour Finals. When they’re not playing tennis, these guys stay in the nicest hotels, eat at the best restaurants, and chat with celebrities. They’ve earned it. It takes a great deal of hard work to make it to the top. In addition to the many millions each of these eight guys takes home from endorsement deals, they win a lot in prize money. This week alone, each of the eight players will receive a $95,000 participation fee plus $120,000 for each round robin win. The players progressing to the semifinals and the final match will add even more substantial amounts to this week’s pay check. As neither Rafa nor Roger has lost a match yet, they are also still in the running for the giant undefeated bonus, assuming one of them manages to win the whole event without losing a match. Not bad for a week’s worth of work, considering a player could win absolutely nothing and still go home with nearly $100,000.

As much as I would have loved to be in London this week, it just wasn’t in the cards. However, last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a challenger level ATP tournament in Champaign, Illinois. I don’t think you could find a tournament much farther from the glamour of the World Tour Finals. Previously, the smallest tournaments I had attended were ATP 250 events in Estoril and Newport. The difference was striking. These players weren’t famous. No one was stopping them for autographs or photos. They didn’t bring an entourage. They hung out to watch other matches and chat with friends. They drove their own cars. The crowd almost never exceeded 50 people and tickets only cost a few dollars. Not to mention the tournament was played in a college gym, albeit a very nice one. There wasn’t even a concession stand. As I found out at the check presentation, the players even spent the week staying with host families to save the expense of a hotel. Remember, these are professional athletes, not high school exchange students.

Before you misunderstand me, I realize that these tiny challenger tournaments are necessary for players to gain points and make their way to larger events. I honestly applaud these guys for their hard work. You really have to love playing tennis to spend a week staying with a stranger on the off chance you may win 75 points and $7,000. One of the doubles finalists actually planned on leaving directly after his match to drive fourteen hours in an effort to make his flight home. This made me feel a little better about my own three hour drive.

Anyway, this dichotomy between the top of the top and the average pro got me thinking. Tennis is an expensive sport. Unlike a baseball or football or basketball, there’s no contract, no team to pay for flights, hotels, and food. Most players don’t make tons of money in endorsements so the majority of their income depends on whether they win. There are tournaments almost every week of the year in countries all over the world. So, with travel and other expenses, how many tennis players really make the kind of money we associate with professional athletes?

Clearly I don’t have the data on endorsement money for every player in the ATP or how much they spend on travel each year, so we’ll have to speculate on that. What I do have is rankings data and prize money data. I ran through all kinds of numbers and statistics and came up with the following table. All of these numbers are based on rankings and prize money data from the week of November 22nd.

Year to Date Singles Per Tournament
Top 10 $3,183,927.70 $3,138,576.80 $153,010.41
Top 20 $2,197,778.90 $2,119,418.40 $101,402.16
Top 100 $800,184.21 $743,088.26 $34,224.64
20-100 $456,841.83 $399,005.73 $17,430.26
100-200 $127,097.53 $111,024.79 $3,794.92
200-300 $51,469.07 $43,817.25 $2,328.23

Life is pretty good if you’re in the Top 10. This data doesn’t even include the money the Top 8 players will make this week in London or the ridiculous amounts they are paid to endorse brands like Nike, Lacoste, Wilson, Head, Rolex, Gillette, Mercedes, Kia, and many many other companies. Things are still pretty good if you’re in the Top 100. It’s likely that even after taxes, travel, and management/coaches take a cut, Top 100 players are living quite comfortably. After that, things get dicey. Outside the Top 100, players are rarely guaranteed direct acceptance and are often unsure whether they will even be able to play in the main draw of the tournaments they travel to. For players ranked between 100 and 200, the average prize money this year was $127,097.53. For the average person this would be a pretty good salary, but the average person doesn’t have the expenses of a tennis player.

So, what do we do with this information? Nothing. The tennis life is what it is. Players bounce around the rankings, they get injured, they have breakthroughs, and they win and lose endorsement deals, all of which affect their bottom line. I mostly wanted to share some of my experiences from Champaign and debunk the myth that all professional athletes lead crazy lavish lifestyles. I’d wager that the lower ranked players aren’t so different from you and me.

Kops-Jones Loses In Opening Round at US Open

The US Open is where Fresno native Raquel Kops-Jones first burst into the spotlight last year, but she bowed out quietly this year in a surprising first round loss.

Seeded No. 15 in the women’s doubles draw with fellow Californian Abigail Spears, the American team never managed to find the range on their shots, falling 6-4, 6-1 to the all Russian team of Vera Dushevina and Anastasia Rodinova.

With all the players holding serve early on, Kops-Jones missed a forehand in the first break point of the match on Rodionova’s serve to go up 4-2. The Americans lost that game and then Kops-Jones committed two double faults in losing her own service game.

“That was one of the big turning points in the match,” said Spears. “We played decent tennis, but they were solid and didn’t miss many balls.

An ace by Dushevina gave the Russian pair the opening set, 6-4. Kops-Jones won her service game to start the second set, but the Americans began to make unforced errors early on in the rallies. Spears quickly lost her serve with the set tied at 1-1, and Kops-Jones soon lost hers to send the American pair down 4-1. Kops-Jones and Spears had two break points on Rodionova’s serve to break the losing streak, but failed to convert on their chances, missing two volleys to trail 5-1. Three points later, a low forehand winner from Rodionova sent the Russian pair into the next round.

Kops-Jones and Spears reached their first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open last year, and came within two points of reaching the semifinals. The result spurred on the best result of Kops-Jones’s career. She won two WTA Tour doubles titles during the spring in Estoril and Warsaw, in addition to reaching the finals in Birmingham. The results have brought her to a current ranking of No. 33, two spots away from her career high of No. 31, which she achieved this May.

“There was definitely pressure to defend our points from last year, but there’s pressure no matter what,” said Kops-Jones. “We were more focused on just playing well as opposed to winning or losing.”

Since the beginning of 2009, Kops-Jones has also largely cut back on her singles events, primarily becoming a doubles specialist on the WTA Tour.

“I was having better results in doubles and ultimately making more money there,” said Kops-Jones. “After not being able to defend a lot of points at the beginning of the year, my singles ranking really fell and I couldn’t really get into WTA events anymore.”

Both Kops-Jones and Spears are heading to Asia for a series of WTA events in Guangzhou, Seoul, and Beijing. Kops-Jones will go to Europe directly from there, where she will compete in tournaments in Moscow, Luxembourg, and Linz.

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