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Unraveling the actual costs of pro tennis
Gibbs feels that parity between qualifying and main draw athletes
Published May 22, 2017
Many people don’t realize that in tennis, unlike team sports, players are responsible for all training, travel, and other expenses incurred throughout the season. While there are a few perks consistently offered by events of a certain caliber, the majority of coaching costs, air travel, hotel stays and meals are the athlete’s sole responsibility.
In my case, I would estimate my annual expenditure to exceed $200,000, despite constant efforts to cut corners and costs. No worries if I’m not winning much for a while...
Beginning with hotel rooms, only WTA level events and Slams provide per diem for free hotel nights. At an ITF level event, no hotel nights are covered, though occasionally housing options are available where you can opt to stay in a stranger’s home for free. While not everyone feels particularly comfortable with the latter option, many find it to be the only way to make ends meet at these low prize money events.
At WTA qualifying events, two nights at the hotel are covered plus an extra night for each additional day you remain in competition. For the main draw, you are entitled to a minimum of five nights—up from four in previous years—while the qualifying allowance has remained unchanged. Certain events, like Indian Wells and Miami, offer much sweeter hotel deals (ten nights free for main draw, two for qualifying). But for the most part we budget for the two nights for qualifying, five nights for main draw structure. Finally, at Grand Slams, per diem is offered in the form of cash so that you can choose where you’d like to stay.
In the case of Roland Garros, qualifying per diem is approximately $200 per night for all days in competition, plus an additional two, while main draw per diem is closer to $340 per night for all days in competition, plus an additional three.
Considering that most players arrive in Paris more than two days before the event, and most need additional rooms for their coaches, trainers, or physical therapists, potential profits begin to evaporate quickly. That’s only accounting for hotel expenses.
If you’re like me, you’re asking yourself why players competing in the main draw, where there is more prize money and more ranking points, receive more help from tournaments. When you consider the disparity in payout for first round of qualifying versus the first round of main draw—in the case of Roland Garros, approximately $3,900 vs $33,700—the per diem structure appears all the more alarming.
So, when Roland Garros tells me that they cannot offer me transport to or from the three bedroom apartment I found via Airbnb for myself, my coach and my father for under $200 per night (cited reason: the location is 10.5 km from site and their limit is 7 km), I feel justified in my frustration.
Qualifiers are disproportionately backed into an economic corner, and have to sacrifice convenience for affordability.
Most fans know that tennis is an expensive sport with significant financial barriers. However, many do not realize that the financial constraints significantly affect even those players that are within the Top 200 in the world. While I strongly appreciate efforts to increase main draw prize money in ITF and WTA events, I feel that parity between qualifying and main draw athletes should become a priority.
To that end, I feel that increases in tournament funding should be directed at defraying travel costs for all athletes rather than to increasing payouts for tournament winners. But that’s just me.
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