Article in l’Équipe print edition April 7 2015 by Julien Reboullet
“It ends up getting depressing.” Antoine Benneteau, Julien’s younger brother and once ranked 370 in the world, talks about his experience at tennis’ bottom echelon between 2011 and 2014, “a world of scraping by.”
After studying in the United states, Andtoine Benneteau, at the age of twenty-five, tried his hand at playing professional tennis in 2011. He shared hotel rooms with Élie Rousset [see this piece for more on Élie] . But, after three years, drained by a system that obliges you to count every penny, he gave up on his dream. Today he’s an intern at L’Équipe 21 and hopes to become a sports journalist. He reviews his first career.
Of course you’re a professional when you play on the Futures tour because you put in the same number of hours training as the best players and you invest the same amount in personal sacrifices, clean living, family ties, friends etc. The difference is that even when you do it to earn a living, you end up doing it for as little cost as possible. When you say you’re leaving to play a $10K, it doesn’t mean the winner gets $10,000. That’s the total prize money. The winner gets something like $1,000 [€911]. When you decide to go on a several week road trip at the other end of world, that’s not a lot. In May 2012 I left for Mexico and put together, in three tournaments, title-final-final. Even though the cost of living isn’t very high there, even though you try and find the least expensive flights, ones with multiple flight changes, even though you have five hour trips in unlikely vehicles in the middle of the night … In short, even if you’re very careful with every expense, you hardly make ends meet. On this trip I had to make do with winnings of 200 or 300 euros maximum.
“You really get to know yourself”
Obviously it’s nothing like the “big” tour. For example, while the best get six or eight racquets strung for every match, even ones they don’t use, I had one racquet strung for every tournament because it’s 15 dollars each. At this level you never get anything from equipment sponsors. I was lucky enough to get my shoes, my clothing, my racquets and and my stringing, which wasn’t too bad. French players at that level can rely on some brands. But how many ‘foreign’ players get free tee-shirts? It’s a world of scraping by.
Before a long journey you always look to see if there are other Frenchmen signed up for those ‘exotic’ tournaments. That way you can share rooms [accommodation is almost never paid by the tournaments any more], we co-ordinate flights, we can play doubles together. And we have someone we can train and eat with. The week gets easier.
At twenty-five, in the summer of 2011, I started off from zero after my university thing and I got up to a ranking of 700 in my first year. The second year, 370. I had some matches then that could have turned things around, brought me higher. There were missed match points etc. The real markers are 500, 350 and 250. Once you’re at 250, you can play Challengers, get a shot at Slam qualies. You get a glimpse of what you’re looking for a bit. You have to be gripped by the system. But the system ends up wearing down your passion. At some point you look at the number of hours spent on court, how much money you’ve spent and how much you’ve made …and it ends up getting depressing. I quit, but I have no regrets; I travelled around the world, you really get to know yourself and you learn ten thousand times more. It’s a school of life.
Translation by MAN