The Global Tennis Foundation

Levar’s Travels and Cause

It’s the year 2002, and for some reason I am having a lot of difficulty playing a tournament. It’s not the level of the tournament, injury, nor is it where the tournament is that is giving me trouble. This biggest problem I’m having is that I am not sure how I’m going to be able to get back if I get on a plane and go. Unfortunately, I can’t afford a roundtrip ticket. This is a story that a lot of tennis players go through but that story is rarely told. However, my struggles are directed at a tournament we all know…..Wimbledon.

I was a top international junior player, was a practice partner for Captain John McEnroe and the U.S. Davis Cup Team in 2000 and won the USTA National Junior Doubles Championships with Andy Roddick. I was also climbing the ranks as a young pro.

However, I find myself talking to a Merrill Lynch associate trying to convince her that I need a credit card so I can go play Wimbledon. Mind you, I am only playing qualifying but it is still THE most prestigious tennis event in the world. So the idea that I couldn’t find the money to go compete was very troubling to me but it was the reality I had to go through. I had success in my efforts to convince her that I was a tennis player and participating and that the prize money alone for losing first round would most likely cover most of my expenses. However since I was buying my plane ticket to London late, that cost went up and I had to pick a day early in the week to also keep that price down. Turns out that would come back to bite me……

So having gone through the stress of leveraging my savings and insurance just to get a credit card to go play Wimbledon, I arrive slightly relieved but not optimistic about my chances at playing well. I was praying for a relatively easy first round, possibly a Spaniard or South American (whom traditionally don’t do well on the grass surface). My prayers were not answered. I draw Nenad Zimonjic. A 6’4″ monster with a cannon serve and one of the worlds top doubles players. Not a good match up on grass for me being 5’9 counter-puncher and shot-maker.

I proceed to lose the first set and go down an early break in the second and it seems as if my trip just got real short. However, I manage to hold on and win the second set and take it to a third, where I managed to pull out a hard-fought match. Now back to how I mentioned my flights. Well since I was almost assuming to lose and trying to save money I had to book my flight early, well now I had to change it one day back. Costing me money I didn’t want to spend.

My next round is against a very similar opponent to myself. Amir Hadad, an Israeli with great hands and incredible shot-maker in his own right. I pull out another match with a 7-5 victory in the third. Again having to change my flight thinking or maybe hoping I would lose.

I am in the last round of the qualifying tournament and a glimpse of hope starts to set in. I have a real chance for the main draw where getting here was almost impossible. Standing in front of me on this day is Austrian Jurgen Melzer. He is a lefty, with a nice serve good returns and a very good record on grass. Against Melzer, it was not to be that nice finish to a strange story. I lost a tough four-set match. I played well but not well enough to get it.

Following the match loss, the real problems set in. I had to change my flight twice and pay for my hotel, not to mention stringing, food, etc. I tallied up a hefty bill. However, there is a rule in tennis known as Lucky Loser (not the most endearing term) where players that lose in the final round of qualifying can get into the tournament if a main draw player pulls out before the first round with an injury. My potential “lucky loser” status kept me around at the event for the entire week while getting a daily stipend from the tournament. It was one of those really wet first weeks at Wimbledon and that daily stipend allowed me to save up enough money to pay all my bills for the week, including my flight change fees and other ridiculous fees I incurred through that airline which will remain nameless…..

All being said, tennis is an expensive sport, and its costs are rarely offset in a players attempt to climb the rankings. At the time, I was a top U.S. prospect – and the second-highest ranked black player in the world behind James Blake – yet opportunities to finding money to help finance the “start-up costs” of my tennis career/business just weren’t there.

My experiences inspired me to co-found The Global Tennis Foundation (www.globaltennisfoundation.org) , a non-profit, 5-1c3 organization with a mission statement to “To redefine the way tennis is perceived and developed in America.” It is my goal – and the goal of the foundation, to help provide sponsorship support for talented athletes. We want no one to have to rely on ‘lucky loser” money just to get a plane flight back home.

Stay tuned for more updates from the world of professional tennis and updates from the athletes in our program and who are benefiting from our Foundation.