Archive for November, 2013


The articles that comprise this week’s Reading List collectively paint a bleak picture of the Challenger and Futures tours’ financial landscapes, putting into sharp relief the plight of players trying to earn a living on tennis’s minor leagues.

We start with a fairly ominous overview of the situation as it currently stands, courtesy of our friends at the GWH Von Helvete Mens Tennis Blog (scroll down to the Steep Decline of the Challengers subheading).  The article shows that — while total money on the ATP Tour has increased 21.44% from 1995 to 2013 — total money on the Challenger Tour has decreased by 30.27% in that same span.

“With little fanfare the ATP have increased the prizemoney of the lowest level Challengers from $35K+H (hospitality) to $40K+H. It’s good they have done this, but at best it’s tokenism. When over time the prizemoney on the Challenger tour has decreased significantly while expenses and costs have risen.”

Yeongwol Generosity

Yeongwol Generosity

A point is made about court surface homogenization leading to players breaking through at later ages, thus “the younger players are spending more time playing Challenger level.”  Not a very easy thing to do if a player is losing money every year, with costs increasing and Challenger purses dwindling.

Also, the blog echoes what I said here regarding an economical environment in which match-fixing becomes even more problematic:

“The lack of money at the lower level there are greater temptations to fix matches since the payments exceed the amount of prizemoney earned. It stands to reason raise the income at the lower level then the temptation is reduced.”

For corroboration of these numbers, check out Douglas Robson’s story for USA Today last year, which comes to similar conclusions (using something called the “Gini co-efficient”), even for players within the top 100:

“From 1990 to 2011, total ATP prize money went from $33.8 million to $80.1 million in 2011, a 137% increase. Over the same period, total Challenger prize money barely doubled to $10.2 million from $4.9 million and even has fallen from a high of $12.3 million in 2008.”

To get a personal glimpse into what this translates into for a player on tour, we need look no further than James McGee. In this article from this week’s Irish Daily Star, the Irish #1 — who reached a career-high of 220 in the world earlier this month — discusses his having to stay at shared rooms in hostels while on tour, because (in effect) there’s not enough prize money available at tournaments to support staying in the official tournament hotels without incurring a monetary loss.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend having a look at McGee’s more-detailed breakdown of his financial challenges. There, the Irish #1 shows how expenses can’t be met even if he wins a Futures event every week.

"Congrats on making the final, but you lost money this week!"

Per my own analysis, McGee would’ve had to make the second round of every Challenger event he played just to make ends meet. We’re talking about finishing the year having made no money at all — essentially an unpaid internship on the pro tour — for having won as much as you’ve lost.

Prize Money Receipt for 2nd Round of Challenger

Prize Money Receipt for 2nd Round of Challenger

As a point of comparison: the 220th-best earner on golf’s PGA Tour, Scott Jamieson, cleared over $130K in 2013, which he made playing only 3 events. Had James McGee made the finals of all 17 Challengers he entered this year, he still would’ve pulled in just $106,635. How’s that for rewarding (potential) success?

Furthermore, as Tom Perotta noted in his piece from the Wall Street Journal earlier this summer, the minimum salary for a Major League Baseball player this year was $490,000. And the minimum for players in the National Basketball Association is $474,000.  So who in their right mind is going to opt to play tennis, when the possible monetary rewards are so weighted against it?

In this article from Spazio Tennis last week, ATP #277 Simone Vagnozzi weighs in:

“If I have to point out, however, an element that I find really bad for those who do my job, apart from the case is not entirely uncommon in the hotel where the tournament proves to be a hovel, I must refer the obvious costs: simply absurd.” (Google translation from its original Italian)

As with McGee, Vagnozzi outlines an average year’s expenses (both with and without a coach) and comes to similar conclusions. Basically, a player needs to make 30-35,000 EUR just to break even. And if they can’t, then playing for a club can offer some semblance of fiscal salvation.

Simone Vagnozzi

Simone Vagnozzi

From Ireland to Italy (and I’m sure everywhere else) it remains the same: one has to have a phenomenal level of success (relative to other professions) to even break even as a tennis pro.

Since mine is a site which purports to celebrate the extraordinary athletes who compete through these extraordinary challenges, I find all of this to be quite alarming.  One wonders: if current trends hold, will Challenger and Futures players become a professionally endangered species?

And if that’s the case, from where will tennis pros of the future emerge, if not from the Futures?  At what tipping point of inequality, if any, will those who guide the game and determine its course off of the courts realize that this is current model is not sustainable and will ultimately endanger the product at every level?

The ATP has just elected a new president, Chris Kermode. As he was mostly a Futures-level player himself, there may be hope that he — along with the ATP’s player reps and governing councils — can steer the tour through factions and transactions to a place in which not just the very top players can earn a living.

As we get further into the so-called “off-season”, and more players shut it down for the few weeks that the relentless tennis season allows them to stop playing, we start to see such scheduling decisions impact the rankings.  At the top, there’s a whole lotta nothin’ going on.  But for those willing to keep playing this deep into the season, there are nice gains to be had at the lower levels.

So few players are playing, relatively speaking, that scheduling plays a much larger role in determining Who’s Achieved Their Career Highs this week.  Let’s take a look at this week’s W.A.T.C.H. List:

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Pablo Carreno-Busta ESP 22 64 Przysiezny lost pts
Sam Groth AUS 26 173 Toyota SF
Marton Fucsovics HUN 21 180 Andria W
Tennys Sandgren USA 22 184 others lost points
Kimmer Coppejans BEL 19 251 others lost points
Andrea Collarini ARG 21 255 others lost points
Theodoros Angelinos GRE 29 257 Colombia F7 SF
Egor Gerasimov BLR 21 258 Tyumen QF
Ante Pavic CRO 24 274 Tyumen QF
Aslan Karatsev RUS 20 285 others lost points
Toni Androic CRO 21 294 Croatia F16 QF
Emilio Gomez ECU 21 303 others lost points
Yann Marti SUI 25 307 Andria SF
Marc Rath AUT 23 333 Turkey F46 SF
Piotr Gadomski POL 22 353 Tyumen R2
Jason Jung USA 24 371 Toyota QF
Federico Coria ARG 21 408 Chile F8 QF
Ivan Arenas-Gualdo ESP 23 420 Spain F40 SF
Bastian Trinker AUT 23 422 Greece F20 SF
Ricardo Urzua-Rivera CHI 24 431 others lost points

As you no doubt see, with so few point-gaining events on offer (the Challenger calendar finished up last week with its final 3 events), the ATP #60-300 range that usually populates each week’s List only contains 11 players today, with only 6 of those actually gaining points from tournaments played.  

Since the List is usually at least 20 players long, I reached deeper into the rankings depths to cull this week’s edition (and this will certainly be the case for the remainder of the year). Personally, I’m pleased to be able to feature new names whose achievements occurred even further outside the spotlight than usual.

But first, an achievement that happened within many spotlights (as the Andria Challenger did not skimp on its trophy ceremony light show):

Not Fuc-ing Around

Andria Chally Not Fuc-ing Around

Hungarian gamer Marton Fucsovics found the odds to be ever in his favor as he dropped only a single set on his way to the Andria title, hurdling his previous career high ranking of 230 and jumping 53 spots to his new placement of ATP #180.

Throughout the week, the 21-year-old displayed the great hands, clean ball-striking and remarkable returning that saw him to his former world junior #1 ranking and his 2010 Boys Wimbledon and US Open doubles titles. He might even be one of my ten Players to Watch for 2014 (but you’ll have to wait ’til Sunday to find out, as I hit you up with a new PTW every day the first ten days of December).

*sings* "We will, we will FUC YOU!" *unsings*

*sings* “We will, we will FUC YOU!” *unsings*

Skipping down the List, we see another Andria Achiever, Yann Marti, whose semifinal showing allowed him to vault 55 spots past his former career high of #362 to a new best of #307. In so doing, the 25-year-old Swiss also becomes the highest-ranked Marti on tour, leapfrogging the 21-year-old Javier Marti (one of my 2011 Players To Watch) by two ranking spots.

What Light Doth Yann-der Window Break?

What Light Doth Yann-der Window Break?

Just below Yann, we see that Marc Rath’s adventurous activities (previously chronicled here) now include leaping 40 places to a new career singles high. What depth-defying stunt will the 23-year-old Austrian thrill seeker pull off next? Stay tuned!

Rath (of the Titans)

Rath-er Adventuresome

I’m happy to see that Jason Jung is now appearing on this site in a new way, as he transitions this week from my Reading Lists to my W.A.T.C.H. List, appearing at #371 on your programme. The 24-year-old University of Michigan grad wrote extensively about this week’s Toyota Challenger exploits, so rather than me blathering about it, why don’t you see what he has to say?

Finally, we see a familiar tennistical surname just under Jung’s, as Federico Coria joins his famous brother (and coach) Guillermo in the upper(ish) ranks of the ATP.  The 21-year-old mini-Mago continues a successful(ish) 2013 with a quarterfinal showing at the F8 Futures event in Chile.

He won two Futures events in Argentina this past May, and is competing in this week’s Chile F9 Futures in Santiago, where he’s the 8th seed. We’re likely to see him on upcoming Lists as we close out this tennis year.

Who's Achieved Their Coria High? - photo courtesy of Fue Buena

Who’s Achieved Their Coria High? – photo courtesy of Fue Buena

Sunday Morning Reading List: Tuesday Afternoon Edition

It’s time for everyone’s favorite long-standing* weekly Challenger Tennis tradition: the Sunday Morning Reading List — the very best challenger-related articles of the week.  As is usually the case, Sunday’s reading list is appearing on a day other than Sunday because, let’s face it, the NFL is on Sundays and I can’t be expected to write while football is being played** I can’t be locked into a temporal limitation when good writing does not cohere to such Sunday-shaped, calendaric*** specifications.

For instance, this amazingly entertaining piece by Catherine Prendergast was just published today. (Confession: oftentimes I’m just waiting for a truly great piece of writing to inspire me to get off my lazy ass, walk to the computer, get back onto my lazy ass, and compile that week’s Reading List. AND THIS IS THAT.)

Titled  “The Last American Challenger”, this deliciously detailed read recounts the author’s week at what is the end of a long and grinding road for a lot of players: the Champaign Challenger.

What we have going on in Champaign, then, is something like Custer’s Last Stand—except in this version there are no Indians so the Americans are left shooting at each other.

I laughed approximately 18 times while reading this article. Prendergast does not pull any punches; from Jack Sock’s “brat”-like behavior, to Tennys Sandgren’s Lynyrd Skynyrd “porn stache”, it’s all here in glorious word pictures and not-quite-as-glorious picture pictures (although you seriously haven’t lived until you’ve seen the pointillist rendering of coach and tourney protagonist Billy Heiser).

"S-A-N-D-G, R-E-N. - NIGHT!"

“S-A-N-D-G, R-E-N. – NIGHT!”

Citing David Foster Wallace’s legendary tennis writing, this article dips into a vein of DFW-esque inspiration, which is the highest (and most deserved) compliment I can give it.

Speaking of Sandgren, this write-up from the UT Daily Beacon provides a nice summation of the Knoxville Challenger, from a University of Tennessee POV.  In the feature, Knoxville champ Tim Smyczek says, “Tennys is playing really well, and I think he is going to have a good Champaign.”  And boy, did Sandgren ever prove him right.

Had enough of Tennys? Of course you haven’t! Which is why you should also read Collette Lewis’s account of the success he and other college players had on the challenger tour last week, as well as the splashes juniors like Gianluigi Quinzi, Borna Coric, Christian Garin, Andrey Rublev and Ernesto Escobedo made at the Challenger and Futures levels.

On the subject of Futures, Irish #4 Daniel Glancy has been blogging about his experiences as he tours the late-season European Futures circuit. In the latest edition, he writes of the fiscal and physical challenges he faced at the Cyprus F1 event.  As ever, the best glimpses you can get into life on tour are from the players themselves.

Danny Glanny! (TM James Cluskey)

Danny Glanny! (TM James Cluskey)

Lastly, if you’re already over this season (though there’s still three Challengers and many Futures events happening this week, I’m obligated to point out parenthetically!) and can’t wait for 2014 and the possibilities presented for your Challfaves, look no further than Foot Soldiers of Tennis’s regularly updated series detailing the race to get into the Australian Open main draw.

That’s all for this week. Be sure to check back next (day I decide is) Sunday!

*Three weeks and running!

**Um, forget you just read that.

***Yes I made that word up.

A very long List today. Since a lot of players’ seasons have already been shuttered, those who did play last week stood to gain a lot vs. those dormant others. Thus, there’s a whole lotta career highs to get to today. So let’s get to them!

Player NATIONALITY Age New High Why
Alejandro Gonzalez COL 24 91 CTF F
Oleksandr Nedovyesov UKR 26 93 CTF SF
Bradley Klahn USA 23 97 Yokohama SF
Dominic Thiem AUT 20 121 others lost points
Facundo Bagnis ARG 23 123 Lima F
Facundo Arguello ARG 21 124 Lima QF
Peter Polansky CAN 25 140 others lost points
Victor Estrella DOM 33 143 Guayaquil QF
Pierre Hugues-Herbert FRA 22 151 Yokohama SF
Guilherme Clezar BRA 20 156 CTF RR
Gerald Melzer AUT 23 178 others lost points
Sam Groth AUS 26 183 Champaign F
Tennys Sandgren USA 22 187 Champaign W
Damir Dzumhur BIH 21 189 others lost points
Pedro Sousa POR 25 199 Guayaquil F
Mohamed Safwat EGY 23 206 Egypt F32 W
Lorenzo Giustino ITA 22 232 others lost points
Axel Michon FRA 22 239 Egypt F32 F
Kimmer Coppejans BEL 19 254 Yokohama R2
Andrea Collarini ARG 21 257 Lima R2
Egor Gerasimov BLR 21 267 Helsinki QF
Hiroki Kondo JPN 31 275 Yokohama FQR
Adrian Sikora SVK 25 295 others lost points
Ante Pavic CRO 24 297 Helsinki R2
Janez Semrajc SLO 24 300 Croatia F14 F

So what do we make of this uber-long List?

Well, first of all, a hardy “Welcome to the Top 100!” is in order for Colombia’s Alejandro Gonzalez and American Bradley Klahn. Gonzalez, who lost to Filippo Volandri in the Challenger Tour Finals, is the sixth Colombian to ever break into the One Hundred Club.

AGon The Conqueror

AGon The Conqueror

Klahn, the three-time All-American out of Stanford, finishes his first full year on tour in superb form, going Finalist, Champion and Semifinalist in Traralgon, Yeongwol and Yokohama respectively — a run that saw him rise 26 rungs on the ATP Rankings ladder.

Behind John Isner and Sam Querrey, the Americans are now tightly bunched, with Tim Smyczek at #89, Michael Russell #92, Donald Young #96 and Klahn at #97.  Furthermore, Klahn has now assured his entry into the main draw at next year’s Australian Open, where the cutoff is ATP #105. Our pals at Footsoldiers of Tennis have the latest breakdown of who’s chasing ATPoints at the three Challenger events this week, in order to join Klahn in the main draw.

The Wrath of Klahn - photo courtesy of Aceland Tennis

The Wrath of Klahn – photo courtesy of Aceland Tennis

Next, we see that tennis’s Facundos are still doing just fine, although they’ll need to qualify at next year’s first Slam.  But at least they’ll be seeded. Click here if you’re still unsure about who the Fac they are.

Clearly congrats are in order for Victor Estrella, who’s the Tommy Haas of the Challenger Tour, finding success well into his thirties. A new career high at age 33 is nothing to sneeze at*.

Sweet Victory

Sweet Victor-y

Lastly, congrats to Sam Groth and Tennys Sandgren, whose bubbly Champaign Challenger success (finalist and champion, respectively) resulted in dual breakthroughs into the vaunted Top One Hundred Eighty Seven.

I Will Not Make A Tennys Pun.

I Will Not Make A Tennys Pun

Groth’s breakthrough has been a long time coming, as he’s dabbled in the 200’s for significant periods of time every year since 2008. As the now seventh-ranked Aussie, he inserts himself prominently into the wildcard discussion for the Oz Open.

Champaign Wishes And Caviar Dreams

Champaign Wishes And Caviar Dreams

Welp, there are many more stories I can tell of those in the lower reaches of this week’s W.A.T.C.H. List, but this article is already long enough, don’t you think?  If I’m inspired, I’ll write a sequel.  So check back often!***

*Unless you have a cold, in which case: sneeze away!**

**Your monitor also doubles as a sneeze guard.

***Chances are <1% that I’ll write a sequel, so use your best judgment here.

On Monday’s Order of Play at this week’s Champaign Challenger, I couldn’t help but notice there were four (4) (FOUR!) different players named Dennis (or Denis) (or Denys) playing that day.

You See? I Wasn't Lying!

You See? I Wasn’t Lying!

And the last names are almost as similar: Zivkovic, Novolo, Novikov, Molchanov — you could practically spell all these surnames with the same rack of Scrabble tiles*. There’s also a Dennis Novak in the Top 400.

Add Denis Kudla and Denis Istomin to the list, and you gotta whole lotta Den(n)i(y)s goin’ on. And you wanna see something spooky? OK:

Dennis Nevolo Dennis Novikov
NATIONALITY USA USA
Age 23 20
Rank 579 625
Plays RH RH
Backhand 2H 2H
Career High 566 457
C High Was 10/28/13 08/12/13
Jr High 102 30
Best surface Clay & hard Clay
College Illinois UCLA (now pro)

They’re practically the same player**. Hell, they were the only two Dennises to even play collegiate tennis in the U.S. Plus, all these guys I’ve mentioned are right-handers with two-handed backhands. Methinks a field guide is in order! Follow me as we distinguish and differentiate all of tennis’s Dennisses***. In order of ranking, we have:

What Istomin of This?

What Istomining of This?

Denis Istomin

Nationality: UZB
Age: 27
Ranking: 45
Career High: 33
Career High Date: 8/27/12
Best Junior Rank: 412
Best surface: Hard
Identifying marks: Trademark goggles
Frequently seen with: his mother, who is also his coach
Interesting fact: He once won a refrigerator for winning a tourney.
 
I'm A Kudla Not A Fighta

I’m A Kudla Not A Fighta

Denis Kudla

Nationality: USA
Age: 21
Ranking: 113
Career High: 90
Career High Date: 10/28/13
Best Junior Rank: 3
Best surface: Hard
Identifying marks: Blonde hair
Maybe you can see him with: his USO Runner-up and Eddie Herr trophies
Interesting facts: Used to write all tweets without punctuation. Andy Murray had a dream he was playing Kudla in the Wimbledon finals. Also was one of my 2011 Players to Watch (though I’m not sure that last one really counts as “interesting”).
 
Molchin' It

Molchin’ It

Denys Molchanov

Nationality: UKR
Age: 26
Ranking: 261
Career High: 206
Career High Date: 5/6/2013
Best Junior Rank: 70
Best surface: Hard
Identifying marks: Shoulder-length brown hair
Frequently seen with: Headphones (main listed interest is: Music).
Interesting fact: When you google him, you get a Denny’s ad as part of search results.
The Other Novak!

The Other Novak!

Dennis Novak

Nationality: AUT
Age: 20
Ranking: 365
Career High: 365
Career High Date: 11/11/13
Best Junior Rank: 29
Best surface: Hard
Identifying marks: Frankly, I don’t feel comfortable revealing this.
Frequently seen with: Ping pong paddle (enjoys table tennis).
Interesting facts: Protege of Gunter Bresnik, trains with Dominic Thiem.
 
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