Sir Andy Murray, widely considered one of the greatest tennis players ever and arguably the greatest British tennis player ever, is ranked No. 156 in the world. Murray has won $465,883 in prize money in 2021 so far. A national hero in Great Britain, he is one of the lucky ones — low-ranked, but with millions of dollars worth of endorsement income from sponsors such as Head, Jaguar, Standard Life and Under Armour. Most low-ranked players, however, simply do not have the accomplishments necessary to secure such lucrative endorsement deals.
It may sound ridiculous to say that tennis players deserve to earn more money while top players such as Serbian legend Novak Djokovic and Russian superstar Daniil Medvedev have each earned north of $5.5 million of prize money in 2021. But the winnings for each player decline steeply such that the 300th highest-earning men’s tennis player in the world, Russian tennis player Andrey Kuznetsov, has earned just more than $90,000 so far this year.
But that number fails to account for how much it costs to play tennis professionally around the world. Since professional tennis players are considered “independent contractors,” they must use their own funds for coaching, international travel, lodging, food and any other expenses. Many low-ranked players fail to break even, much less make a profit.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse for low-ranked professionals — as it has in many other fields. Last April, then 375th-ranked Sofia Shapatava called for the International Tennis Federation, Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association to help out low-ranked players and ensure their financial well-being. She started a petition on Change.org in an attempt to secure heightened financial security.
Now, some readers might be thinking, “She chose to be a professional tennis player. Why would she be complaining about her compensation?”
Let’s let Shapatava explain: “Yes, we choose to have this struggle. That’s why so many of us have side jobs, like me, coaching and playing exhibitions.”
Just like millions of people around the world, Shapatava and other low-ranked players saw their job opportunities dwindle during the pandemic. Famed tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou, coach of the most dominant tennis player in history, Serena Williams, as well as young stars such as Stefanos Tsitsipas and Coco Gauff, expressed as much in a tweet a couple weeks into the pandemic.
My letter to the tennis community to raise awareness about the current situation of players out of the Top100. pic.twitter.com/mFTIECxOFL
— Patrick Mouratoglou (@pmouratoglou) April 7, 2020
The situation had gotten so incredibly dire that in August 2020, Djokovic, along with Canadian tennis player Vasek Pospisil, co-founded the Professional Tennis Players Association, or PTPA, with the express purpose of “creat(ing) transparency and fairness throughout decision-making in professional tennis” and “building an equitable and sustainable competitive environment for players today, and for generations to come.”
However, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of the best and highest-earning tennis players of the 21st century, do not consider the PTPA a viable option for low-ranked players. When the PTPA first formed, Nadal took exception to its creation reasoning that “if we compare the earnings of five, six, seven or eight years ago to today, it is clear that we have significantly reduced the gap between the lowest ranked and the best players. … We know that we have to continue working on this, but we do not consider that another organization is necessary.”
Federer agreed with Nadal, emphasizing the importance of “standing united as players” to “pave the best way forward.”
Confusing, I know. Over a year later, while low-ranked tennis players continue to struggle financially, the question remains: Is the PTPA good for tennis?