“Tennis is taking a hit.” Amélie Mauresmo talks about the current state of her sport with Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe

Translation of this piece on the Équipe website by Vincent Cognet. (subscribers only)

Does this polemic about equal prize money interest you or annoy you?

– It bloats me, that’s for sure. It don’t see the point of raising this subject again. The cyclical side of it bothers me. Apart from that, there are some points made. At the moment, the men’s circuit is more attractive than the women’s circuit. There’s no debate: there are probably three of the six greatest players of all times playing at the same time! The women’s tour had a period like that around ten years ago. What I don’t understand is, the money the women earn isn’t to the detriment of the men … so where’s the problem? Obviously, Roger, Rafa and Novak are carrying all of tennis, including women’s tennis, which isn’t at that level. But why shouldn’t everyone profit from it? I find it to be a very sterile debate.

But you understand the players’ position …

– If you limit it to Slams, it’s understandable. They play best of five, it’s not the same format … it’s an acceptable argument. I understand in as much as I think I’m more favourable to the women playing five sets at the end of the tournament. With the men playing best of three at the beginning of the tournament. There aren’t many balanced matches in the first week. At the same time, with the women, adding a third set to be won might make the semis or the finals more interesting.

Do you think this debate smells a bit of machismo or sexism?

– Society globally is still and always sexist. We have the chance to develop in a sport where equality is defended. We may even be trailblazers. And I’m happy about that.

Have you spoken about all this with Andy (Murray)?

– Obviously. Considering the context, it was compulsory {she smiles}. I knew very well what he was going to say in front of the microphones. We’d discussed it before. I asked him what he thought before his press conference and we had a dialogue. I didn’t dictate anything. He has very strong opinions about all of it. And I find his arguments especially interesting. He has a very broad, very Anglo-Saxon vision of things. To him, a female world number 100 should have the same opportunities as a male world number 100. He thinks: why should a world number 70 just because he has a pair of balls and he’s born in the same year as Djokovic, Nadal and Federer earn more than a Serena when he doesn’t sell a single ticket? The debate isn’t about whether the men’s tour is more attractive. It’s about equal opportunity. And Andy has understood that perfectly.

The problems with the French Federation, the suspicions of match fixing, Sharapova testing positive, the polemic about equal prize money: is tennis suffering?

– Yes. The image conveyed is terrible. It saddens me enormously. I find it a pity. These things are constantly talked about. The performances, the values, the commitment, the sweat, players transcending themselves aren’t talked about. But it’s obvious tennis is taking a hit right now. Betting fixes, doping … There’s only one thing to do: keep fighting and clean up.

Will we see again one day a golden era for women’s tennis (2000-2005)?

– Hard to answer … Will a Bouchard take Sharapova’s place? Impossible to know. Two things characterised our era: First of all, it was thick with champions. We had, all at the same time, the Williams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Davenport, Capriati, me etc. It was just huge. And we had the very different personalities, stories and charismas. Do we have both today? With those who are twenty-two-, twenty-three-years old we have Bouchard, Keys, Muguruza … with the French we have Caro (Garcia)and Kiki (Mladenovic). Do they have charisma? Difficult to say. They need to show it pretty quickly in any case. But the problem is, it’s tough co-existing with the Williams or Sharapova. Often, people get a chance to bloom when the strong personalities that may be stifling them are gone. It will be easier for young players to win, but also to position themselves, to blossom, to reveal and assert themselves.

That’s important?

– It’s essential. It’s sport, after all. Sporting values are the key. What happened after Sharapova’s positive test was terrible. A champion like her implicated in a doping story is horrible for the image of tennis. You need to try and be irreproachable. The road isn’t always straight but you can be redeemed with time. For example, Serena’s done it. She’s fulfilling her role and her responsibilities better than ten years ago. The young ones haven’t noticed. At least, not yet.

Are we right to be worried about the tour post-Williams and post-Sharapova?

– In the same way we can worry about the men’s tour! What about after Federer, Nadal and Djokovic? Those guys are legends. And it’s tough replacing legends. I’d put the young players of both tours in the same basket. Men’s tennis isn’t on the brink of disinterest or love lost. Right now, Kyrgios, Zverevs, Corics don’t exist. There’s a world of difference between them and the “Big Four” But that can change.

Are the ATP and the WTA equally good as organisations?

– The one thing I can say is that the ATP seems to be more pro-active. But the era is advantageous for them. When the WTA was strong? In my time, because there was a bunch of champions. Today, the WTA is more of a follower.

Isn’t it also a bit over-protective? When the Sharapova affair happened, the WTA went as far as issuing talking-points to the players!

– I saw that. I’ll let you in on something: it’s always existed to varying degrees. They’re fearful. Apart from that, honestly, I think the players say what they want. I don’t think they should do it, but, in the end, it changes nothing. I don’t have an image of players as shrinking violets.

What’s more, it would be counter to what they’re looking for: expression and development of personality …

– Exactly. On the other hand, explaining properly the situation to a player before a press conference can only be a plus. There, the WTA has a role to play. But telling a player “it would be better to say this”, I’m pretty sure it has no effect.

Would it interest you to be a part of a working group on the future and promotion of the women’s tour?

– It should … But no! [breaks out laughing] I prefer to be on the court. I hope to contribute in one way or another. By being Fed Cup captain, foremost. I like seeing this group pulling people along. But sitting around a table at a series of meetings, that’s not my thing. I’m more of an action person. Giving direction, inculcating values, imposing respect … that’s my thing.

Translated by MAN

Yevgeny Kafelnikov talks Russian tennis, compares ATP eras, & more

From an interview with Kafelnikov, a multiple-Slam champion, conducted by B92’s Saša Ozmo before the men’s semifinals at Roland Garros.

On Russian tennis, more successful of late on the WTA side:
“It’s much easier to produce top female players than top male players for many reasons.  Young guys don’t have that spark and don’t believe they can reach the top—but I hope that we’ll see a change with Andrey Rublev.  He was the best junior last year, is still only 17 years old, and is getting better all the time.  He’s growing and becoming more mature—hopefully, he’ll be the one we’ve long sought.  He has a champion’s attitude, which is very important, plays aggressively, is good from the baseline, and has nice technique.  I told him and his team that he needs to work on his physical strength, because he plays a great set but then runs out of energy.  He’ll be a very good player if he gets stronger.”

On the possibility of coaching:
“If I see potential and the project appeals, then I might agree.  Coaching is a lot of work, which is clear from former colleagues like Becker, Ivanišević… I see them often, but don’t ask about the details—I don’t think that’s relevant.  However, I observe how they’re handling it and it seems to me they’re happy and doing a good job.  The players they’re training listen to them and respect them; if I find something like that, maybe I’ll become a coach, too.”

On the ATP, then & now:
“I have no regrets at all about retiring early [in 2003, a few months before turning 30].  Honestly, I can’t explain how players are still capable of playing in their later years—Federer is soon 34 and still playing at a high level.  I think the reason for this is that today’s average level of play is much lower than in our time.  Actually, I talked to Boris about it only a few days ago, and he agreed.  So, the best can keep enjoying it and winning Grand Slam titles, since no one else can come close.  In our time, there were 15-20 guys who could potentially win a Grand Slam trophy, but it’s not so right now.”

“The whole approach is different.  In our era, there were many more styles of play than exist now: there were serve-volley players, a lot of ‘chip & charge.’  Now, for the most part, everyone plays from the baseline and tries to strike the ball as hard as he can.  This isn’t the direction tennis should go—I think we need different modes of play.  But nothing’s likely to change if we don’t do something about the courts.  It seems to me that every tournament is played on the same [speed] surface—even Wimbledon is now similar to concrete.  If that doesn’t change, the situation will remain as it is.”

On Nadal’s future:
After the Spaniard’s victory over Djoković in the 2014 Roland Garros final, Kafelnikov made a bold forecast: that it was the last trophy for Nadal in Paris.  He maintains that position.  “So far, my prognosis is accurate.  I love Rafa—he’s a great guy, an excellent tennis player, and has achieved much success.  However, last year I felt (for the first time) that he’s becoming physically weaker.  In previous years, he played much closer to the baseline, and now it’s different, especially in the match with Novak—Djoković was inside the court and dictating the pace while Rafa stood four meters back.  The trend continues: Rafa is already 29 and can’t beat opponents by outrunning them, particularly in best-of-five matches.  Along with that, it doesn’t feel like there’s the same intimidation factor in the air—players aren’t afraid of Rafa any more.  So, I stand by my prediction.  While I’d like it to happen, I’d be shocked if Rafa wins another Grand Slam trophy.”

On his career & retirement:
“It feels good when I look back on it.  I was lucky that I caught different eras, playing with Becker and Edberg, then with Agassi and Sampras, and even Federer after that.  In fact, I competed with three generations of top players, so I’m very satisfied with my career and what I achieved.”

Having dabbled in professional poker in the first years after leaving tennis, Kafelnikov has since found another pastime.  “Poker is my past, but I try to play golf as much as possible, to see how good I can become.  It’s my daily life—I play golf every day for four to six hours.”

 

~ Translated from Serbian by Ana Mitrić.

Francesca Schiavone on the meaningful words in her life

From the print edition of l’Équipe June 24 2015 page 17, by Julien Giovanella

Francesca Schiavone, exuberant? On the court yes, but not in the players restaurant underneath Philippe Chatrier where she joins us for an interview. “We’ll speak quietly, there are people around,” says the player who will be thirty-five on 23 June, before she picks a lap of paper with a proper name, a number or a date randomly from an envelope. Five years ago in Paris she was the first Italian woman to win a Slam, and a year later she was a finalist. Now ranked 92 in the world and playing in her fifteenth Roland Garros. In a quiet voice.

15

This is my fifteenth Roland Garros (she’ll meet the Chinese Qiang Wang). I still remember the first in 2000. I lost in the first qualification round 7-5 in the third against a girl who was playing well at the time (actually 9-7 against the Polish Magdalena Grzybowska). I was young (not yet 20) and I wanted to start this nice fairy tail well … I knew I had to work and work some more, but I already felt at home. I didn’t ask myself  “will I succeed or not?” I just played, full stop. And I loved it. When I saw this stadium for the first time (in 1997 as a junior) I felt the history of tennis. I remember one day going right to the top of Philippe Chatrier. Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were playing (semis, 1999). I was entranced. I got out my Kodak (smiles). I still have photos of the match at home.

Fed Cup

It’s the only time you share your work and your passion with others. I was told from the start: “You’re important to us.” That gave me so much energy. … There was always joy, even when we lost. There was respect between us and that gave me an incredible strength to play above myself (she won the contest in 2006, 2009 and 2012 but hasn’t played since 2012).

Today

What makes me keep playing? I have a new challenge. For a moment, I wasn’t at peace with myself any more. I had some personal difficulties which I’m overcoming, and I want to rediscover myself at thirty-five (birthday on June 23). I want the serenity I had at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. It’s introspection to rediscover my balance and pleasure.

June

June 5 2010, on Philippe Chatrier, what a huge win. I gave myself a gift. It feels good to think about it. What I remember best is the second set tie-break (6-4, 7-6[2]) against Samantha Stosur). I felt all this energy inside me, my spirit and my body were one. My game, my mind, my tactics, my technique were responding perfectly …

Gabi Urpi

Gabi Urpi? Why this lap? Because he works with the French Tennis Federation? (He coaches the French Fed Cup team) He was my coach I shared with Flavia Pennetta. He has a lot of experience, but he also has great humanity, two things not easily found on the tour. The collaboration was a very nice page in my live.

Future

I see a picture with a lot of squares to put my wishes in. One might find: stay in tennis or stay at home and play “the mother”. There are other options too. If this new life were to start tomorrow, I wouldn’t be ready. I’m preparing. But I know myself and I might say from one day to the next: “I’m stopping, I don’t want to play tennis any more.” I hope not to do it, to take the time to make the right choice. I’m not thinking about it right now, I live in the moment.

4 H 44

That was so long (match won against Svetlana Kuznetsova at the 2011 Australian Open 6-4, 1-6, 16-14, the longest women’s match in Slam history). I’ve watched it sometimes since. (The whole match? we ask) No, I’m not crazy. Only the tough parts. The first time was on the same day with the physios, and that’s when I realised how long it was. On the court I was so concentrated that I didn’t think of either the length of the match or becoming 4 in the world if I won (her best ranking, achieved after the tournament).  What I was experiencing was so much nicer than that … Leaving the court, my toes on each foot were bathed in blood. It took me 2½ hours to get them out. After 4 hours and 44 minutes of pleasure, I experienced hell! That I well remember (laughs)!

Lin Zhu

(During the first round of the latest Indian Wells in March, her opponent, the Chinese Lin Zhu, had the ball bounce on her side before going over the net. The umpire saw nothing, the player said nothing and took the point, which was the second set winner.) She saw that the ball bounced on her side. The umpire, no, which is unbelievable.  He asked her, “what happened?” And she answered, “I don’t remember.” There, we have a problem. That’s a lack of respect for the sport and for life. I told her, “this is sport.” And since that day the phrase goes with me. It’s a whole philosophy of life other sports people, especially in cycling, defend, and which I hope to take with me when my career is over. Go and talk to her? What’s the point? Some of the younger players in the new generation don’t have those values, as opposed to Roger (Federer) Rafa (Nadal) Serena or Venus (Williams). We, the champions, need to be examples. You give your life on the court, but the respect and love are there win or lose.

Translated by MAN

“I need to improve my game, not change it.” Caroline Wozniacki on RG, Slams and Arantxa Sánchez

Caroline Wozniacki interview in the German net newpaper SPOX by Florian Regelmann Part One

Caroline, the French Open starts on Sunday at Roland Garros. There’s a nice video of you where you, as a little girl, say you’ll be in Paris later. Did you realize already then that you were going to be a professional tennis player?

(laughs) Yes I’ve believed since I was a kid I could make it. Although there were some bad periods on the way to the top, I’ve never doubted it. I’ve always had the dream of playing the big tournaments like the French Open and hopefully winning one sometime. When I saw the clip recently, I couldn’t believe I’d said that. It was cool to see it again. So I though I’d share it with my fans.

You’ve never done very well at the French Open – you’re best result is a quarter-final in 2010. Is there a reason why Paris has always been a disappointment for you?

Not really. I don’t really know why I haven’t had better results up to now at the French Open. My game really should fit on clay, but hopefully I can change that this year. In any case, I’m working hard at and I’ll give it everything I have in Paris. Hopefully it will be my year.

A first Slam title would definitely make 2015 your year. You’re still waiting for that big win. Are you felling pressure?

No. I hope that a Slam title is just a question of time. I work very hard every day to reach that goal. I know that’s what every training session is for – because I want to win a Slam. It’s one of the last things that I’m missing in my career. I’ve won pretty well everything else. A Slam title would be fantastic.

Does it bother you that you’ve won over 20 titles and were number one for a long time, but what’s mostly talked about is that you’re missing s Slam?

Honestly, I really don’t think about that much, I really don’t. As a tennis player, you have two big dreams: to be number one and to win a Slam. I’ve accomplished the first one, the second one not yet. But I hope I’ll have at least one Slam on the shelf before I hang up my racquet.

After all, you’ve been close. You’ve twice been in the US Open final, losing the one time to Kim Clijsters and the other to Serena Williams. What are you lacking to make the big score?

I don’t know if I’m lacking anything. I’ve beaten every player on the tour and shown that I can compete. It’s simply a question of the right timing and being in absolute top form over two weeks. Winning a Slam isn’t easy. If it were easy, everyone would have done it. It’s not easy either to win a tournament or be number one. I believe I’m good enough to win Slam titles. I need to improve and work hard, and it will happen eventually.

In 2010 you became number one in the world after a win in Peking. What do you remember about that moment?

Becoming world number one meant so much to me. Looking at the rankings list and seeing your name at the top is very special. Growing up, my dream was always to be number one. I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. For me it was a very big moment I’ll always remember. It was an incredible feeling.

When looking for reasons why you haven’t won Slam titles, the answer always ends up being, you aren’t aggressive enough. How do you feel about that criticism?

“I won so much playing my game, but it’s not enough for a Slam? I honestly don’t think it’s about my game or changing anything in it. It’s about hitting top form for those two weeks. It just hasn’t happened yet for me. My strength is to be aggressive from defence – that’s my game. I need to improve my game, not change it.

You’ve had some deep valleys in your career. 2013 was a difficult year for you. How did you climb back out again?

Because I was number for a while, and it was my ambition to stay there, then it’s a bad year when you finish the year at number ten. And looking back, a lot of players would have been happy to have had my 2013. In sports as in life, there are ups and downs. It’s quite normal. When things aren’t going so well, there’s only one thing you can do: keep going and work even harder than before, and your time will come again. So that’s what I did.

Currently you’re world number five and have been playing consistently well for some time. Is this the best Caroline Wozniacki ever?

“Yes, I’d definitely say that. I feel that I’m constantly improving. I’m definitely playing better than when I was number one. But the thing is, all the other players are improving, the level just gets higher and higher. Everyone wants to beat you. Everyone has analysed your videos and knows exactly how to play you. You really have to keep trying to stay one step ahead.

This year you tried to get new input from a brief collaboration with Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. What did you hope to gain?

We worked together for a couple of weeks in Miami. It was really a great experience for me. Arantxa is such a positive person. I love the energy she radiates. I got a few tips from her because there are very few who know more about clay court tennis. Spending time with her was great fun. We keep in touch regularly and hopefully we can work more intensively together in the future.

Translated by MAN

“I’ll continue as long as I can” – Amélie Mauresmo on Fed Cup and a bit about Murray – interviewed by l’Équipe’s @sophiedorgan

From the Équipe print edition April 16 2015 page 13. Interview by Sophie Dorgan

Amélie Mauresmo, pregnant, won’t revise her commitments with the French team. As for her coaching role with Andy Murray, she hopes to be with him until Wimbledon, then take stock with the Brit.

In a friendly atmosphere, the French Fed Cup team gets set to take on the current title holders, the Czech Republic, in the semi-finals Saturday and Sunday in Ostrava. Caroline Garcia, who arrived on Monday a day after her team mates, is recovering and her partners are acclimatising themselves to a surface considered “neutral” by Alizé Cornet, not too fast, not too slow. As for the captain, Amélie Mauresmo, who’s had the job since 2012, she prefers only to talk tennis. She only talks about her pregnancy, which she made public a week ago, in passing before coming back to her priority for the week: the Fed Cup.

You announced your pregnancy last Thursday, with the birth expected in August. How will that change your calendar?

It won’t change any of my Fed Cup commitments. As for Andy, we’ve talked about continuing as long as possible, which means including Wimbledon [June 29-July 12]. After we’ll talk quietly about the follow-up to our collaboration [begun last summer].

You’ll be making a professional choice?

“Of course.”

You say it changes nothing for the Fed Cup, but if you win this weekend [the final is set for November 14-15. The other final this weekend is Russia-Germany], you won’t be able to follow your players. Will you function differently?

I won’t be at the US Open [August 31-September13], but that won’t change things much. Since I started working with Andy, I’m not at all of their matches. There’ll be times when I can talk to the girls. I’m not at all worried about that. I’ve known them for a few years now. If someone needs to be with the French or their opponents, Gabi [Urpi, coach of the French team] will take care of it.”

I have a course of action and I’m sticking to it

We know that you were pregnant during the last meeting with Italy [3-2, February 8, last round]. It must have been wrenching emotionally?

I totally cracked at the end [smiles]. It was very tough. It would have been in any case having just arrived from Australia [after the final lost by Murray to Djokovic] together with the fatigue from the trip and the intensity of accompanying a player of that level to the final of a Grand Slam. I had the duty and responsibility of steering this French team into becoming the best it could be. It wasn’t easy, but it’s probably one of the best weeks we’ve ever experienced.”

To what do you attribute this French team’s success? Mature players, a solid staff and a bit of luck?

When you talk about achievement in sport, success is inevitable at certain times. But you have to induce them at a certain point, make some choices that are a bit daring, be strict about certain things. I have a course of action and I’m sticking to it. We have a young team, the girls are maturing, improving and realising so many things individually. I always tell them: “The stronger you are individually, the stronger the French team is. And the group gives you things as individuals.”

You’ve evolved too in your role.

Of course, I learn during every round and outside about how to position myself in relation to their individual structures. Now there’s a symbiosis.

How will you tackle this meeting with the Czech Republic?

It’s a heck of a challenge. What happened during our last round has expanded our horizons, even if we’re far from being favourites. The goal is to play our cards right and be opportunistic this weekend.

There’s a lot of talk about the return of Petra Kvitová, who was absent from the American swing [fatigue]. What are your thoughts?

We don’t know. That’s why we’re not focussing on Kvitová [ranked 4 in the world]. We haven’t seen her compete recently, first of all, and we’re not sure she’ll be on court. So, perhaps more so than in other rounds, we’re concentrating more on ourselves. The girls have all arrived in different states, and our priority is getting into the best shape possible Saturday and Sunday.

You’ve taken on a left-handed hitting partner, Jonathan Dasnières of Veigy, to prepare for possible lefties Kvitová and Šafářová (13th)

I like everything to be covered. It might be the little detail that makes the difference. If the girls who have hit with “Jon” hit a winner on break point off a lefty serve, there you go … It may not happen, but we’re giving ourselves every chance.

Translation by MAN

Raonic, clay or not: “I want to be number 1” Interviewed by @VinceMartucci

Translation of an interview in La Gazzetta dello Sport, print edition April 15 2015 by Vince Martucci.

The Canadian lives in Monte Carlo, but he has yet to win on the red: “The surface doesn’t matter, my goal is to win Slams.”

Here, at the Country Club, he won his first match on clay in 2011. He was 20 and defeated Llodra 6-3, 0-6, 6-0. He’s made his home here in the Principality because it’s where his his Guardian Angels, Ivan Ljubičić and Riccardo Piatti, live, and they’re opening his eyes to the pitfalls of the red clay to bring him into paradise. “They believe in me and I believe in them: we push each other.”

Milos, this club has no secrets for you.

No, but I’ve never practised on the main courts, just under the rocks. But I feel at home, I have my own car, I know places, I don’t need a guide. I hang around with Bernard, Tomic, I’ve known him since juniors.

In Monte Carlo, the talented youth, more solid and consistent and at 24 ranked 7 in the world, is looking for his first high point on red on the heels of his 3 saved match points against Nadal at Indian Wells.

I like the place, and the surface challenges me. The difficulties are the higher bounces and the movement adjustments that follow. I don’t need to change my aggressive game – I need to dictate the points. But it’s not instantaneous, it takes time to learn to do it on clay too.

Surely one who has won 6 tournaments out of 14 finals, all on hard courts with that bazooka serve, thinks more of winning a Slam at Wimbledon, or even the US or Australian Opens, surely not at Roland Garros.

I’m looking to do my best, to improve. I’m making progress, and I haven’t shown my full potential yet.

What’s the biggest improvement apart from the backhand and movement?

I know myself and my game better, I know better how to manage the situations and choose the right shot.

Certainly, the word Wimbledon has a fascination all it’s own.

Wimbledon makes you think of prestige, history. My idol is Pete Sampras. I’ve recorded all his most important matches, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I re-watched the Wimbledon 2000 final against Rafter.

Sampras won 14 Slams and became nr. 1 in the world. What’s Raonic’s aim?

To win Slams and become nr. 1. That’s been the objective from the beginning with Piatti and Ljubičić. That’s what I’m working for. But I need to raise my level first, and then keep it for the long run.

And the sleeve he always wears: is it protection or a good luck charm?

It began as protection, as a support for the arm that gets used so much. But I never use it in practice.

Raonic is a son of Montenegro, but a Canadian citizen.

“Canada gave my parents the chance to give us boys possibilities. I understood that when I was growing up and started to travel. I promised them that after tennis I’ll graduate like my two brothers, who have returned to Podgorica. I was born there, but I don’t have roots there – I left when I was 3 years old …”

Raonic seems too intelligent to only concentrate on tennis.

“I get obsessive. Now I’m trying different things to get my mind somewhere else. I’ve found there’s nothing better than visiting the tournament city.  In Paris I absolutely need to take a boat ride. I’ve visited some museums in Rome, but I’ve missed the Vatican. I love musicals, the theatre, music. They’re excellent to get my mind off tennis.”

Riches and poverty on the ATP tour

Translation of Russian article appearing in Tennis Weekend, January-February 2015 edition, pages 46-49 by Vitaly Yakovenko
http://tennisweekend.ru/sites/default/files/tennisweekend_01_2015.pdf

Dazzling riches and poverty on the ATP tour

(Part II)

We continue our discussion about prize money in tennis (see also TW edition 10/2014). The first part of our feature discussed the vast budgets at the disposal of the Grand Slam championships, but on this occasion, we are going to discuss the earnings of the simple “journeymen” of the global tennis circus.

How much does a “decent journeyman” earn on the men’s tour? What kind of income does he earn and how much actually ends up in his pocket? Let’s do the math. Fortunately, Benjamin Becker, ranked 40 in the ATP rankings, is quite happy to estimate what his actual earnings are for us along with our colleagues from the German monthly “Tennis Magazin”.

Benjamin, who is not related to the great Boris Becker, although he shares the same surname, is quite a modest man. He’s not one for sports cars or wearing a “flashy” Rolex. Although, based on his earnings, he could afford these items. His total prize money during his career is USD 3.5 million. But this 33-year-old pro from Saarland in Germany is sensibly looking to the future. After all, the end of this career is not that far off. But, in his own words, he still hasn’t managed to secure himself a comfortable living for when he retires. How come? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

In his time, Benjamin was a promising junior, but as he embarked on his professional career, he didn’t win any particular honours. The young German left for the United States where he attended Baylor University in Texas, majoring in Finance and International Business. At the same time, he competed in the university tennis team, leading them to victory in the national collegiate championship. But he stopped harbouring any thoughts of a proper professional career until a benefactor appeared and decided to sponsor Benjamin’s return to the professional tour. The famous coach Tarik Benhabiles, who had worked with Andy Roddick, became his mentor. “Without the financial support I wouldn’t have made this second attempt,” Becker admits. Incidentally, his sponsor has already had a full return on his money. And more besides. When he took to the court again, the Saarland native felt much more confident. Indeed, at the US Open in 2006, Becker beat Andre Agassi in 4 sets, which was to be the last match in the brilliant American player’s career.

But let’s return to Becker’s days as a junior, when he received support to continue his career after not too successful a start. But very few are lucky enough to have such far-sighted benefactors. “Many talented players fall by the wayside because they’re not able to pay for travel to tournaments off their own racquet,” says the German. “The prize money is too little in the lower categories of tournaments – Challengers and satellites.”

This is also one of the main reasons for the dissatisfaction felt by tennis players, which almost led to open conflict with tennis bosses and a boycott of the Australian Open in 2013. The organisers of tennis’s “Big Four” tournaments barely had time to respond, and after an emergency “summit” with players’ representatives, the total prize fund for their tournaments was increased after agreeing to redistribute the total prize fund “for the benefit of poor players”. But the main issue still remained unresolved. What things are professionals still unhappy with today?

In actual fact, since 2006, the prize money at the Grand Slams has almost doubled, whereas the money at ATP 250 tournaments has only increased by 20%. Not to mention that the Grand Slams pay players an abnormally low percentage of their income in prize money. For instance, the US Open spends 4-6% of its income on prize money, compared with ATP tournaments which spend around 30% on prize money. Since 2004, the prize money at major tournaments has grown at lower rates than inflation.

“If you’re in the top 100 in the rankings and you travel with just one trainer, you’ll end up with a modest surplus of USD 20-30,000 a year,” reckons Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, a member of the ATP Player Council, and one of the active leaders in the movement for fair prize money. If you take the top 100 football teams or golfers, or top 100 players of any sport broadcast on TV for that matter, their earnings will be disproportionately more. Who’s at fault for this? “The Slams put the squeeze on everything. If they start to share out the income more, it will make sense to break into the top 100,” states Stakhovsky. “But, it’s possible that some people will think it’s absurd that a player who has lost in the very first round can earn USD 50-100,000. But think of what he has invested just to get there and play. Flying to Australia is a feat in itself as it takes 24 hours. I certainly wouldn’t think of flying economy there. That’s just unrealistic.”

“All the Grand Slams and ATP 1000 tournaments are mandatory for the stars,” explains Benjamin Becker. “That’s why their organisers don’t pay any appearance money. But the lower-level tournaments – “250” series – which barely make ends meet, need to pay out huge sums to attract the top players.”

According to his own calculations, Becker spent last year around EUR 130,000 on a trainer, food, flights and equipment. Sergiy Stakhovsky spends even more – around EUR 170,000 all in. “After the Masters tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, I was around 5,000 in the red,” says Stakhovsky. “And, basically, there are no cheap hotels in Indian Wells. The cheapest room costs USD 144 a night. Prize money is also taxed at 38%. So, you arrive there at least four days before the tournament starts. You spend a minimum of three and a half weeks in the States. You pay for a trainer (weekly salary) plus food, hotel… And what about flights?”

Transport costs account for a significant proportion of the expenses incurred by professional tennis players. “I mainly fly economy”, says Stakhovsky. “We can’t actually buy tickets early. And you can’t buy cheap tickets either. We often buy them on the day we’re flying. We’re talking about different figures again. Last year 85,000 [translator: not sure if this is euros or dollars given that amounts were quoted in euros previous paragraph.] went on tickets alone. I earned USD 428,000. We deduct, on average, 30% from this amount for tax. These are the sums involved.”

Winners of Challenger tournaments are paid USD 5-15,000. This means that, just to offset their transport costs, players need to win almost every week. “Playing at Challenger level, you can just about still retain professional status, which is not the case with Futures,” comments Becker. He uses the term “professional” to mean that a player can pay for the services of a trainer and transport costs only from prize money.

Unlike the highly lucrative advertising contracts enjoyed by elite players such as Federer or Djokovic, who travel around the world with a whole entourage including trainers, physios and stringers, Benjamin Becker makes do with the services of one trainer. He’s never had his own physio. Most of his fellow players, like him, share one physio provided by the ATP. This obviously doesn’t help reduce the level of injury suffered by players on the tour, who come out on court and play with injuries that haven’t healed until the pain becomes unbearable. In the lower echelons of the world rankings, where players can only rely on prize money, it becomes a desperate battle for survival. “It’s getting even tougher,” admits Becker, fully aware of the practices that go on in Challengers and Futures from first-hand experience.

Apart from being excessively motivated, one of the main features of the life of those typically featuring at the lower ranking levels is total thrift. As Becker explains, “Everyone tries to save as much as they can. In the US I have always stayed with families. I arrived at one tournament in Ecuador in a taxi without any doors. The road twisted and turned through the mountains and I was glad to get there alive!”

And one final recollection from Becker. In the soup he was served in the players’ restaurant he found a… screw. True enough, it’s not just the players that are scrimping and saving, but the poor tournaments too…

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Translation by GJM