Category: Reading Lists


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.

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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.

Why yes, I do know it’s Wednesday.  But on Sunday only one of these articles had been published, which would’ve made the Reading List more of a Reading Single Item.  So, like the WTF-delayed W.A.T.C.H. list, this article is merely content delayed.  (And I had to make it a “Sunday” list to keep the cherished tradition* alive for the readers who love it so.)  Besides, Wednesday is Sundae at Carvel.

Moving along from day-related nonsense, our first item is the only one that was available before Sunday. And in fact, it was available in August, though for reasons unbeknownst to me it only started making the rounds last week.  It’s a Forbes article detailing the monetary difficulties for the lower-ranked players on tour, through the eyes of Michael Russell.

Muscles Hustles

Muscles Hustles

I’ve long been one decrying the harsh economic realities for those on the Challenger/Futures circuit, and this article brings into sharp relief how tennis can be more of a fiscal challenge than a physical one.  This quote from Patrick McEnroe is the heart of it:

And if players are not competing on the ATP tour regularly,  the math for staying in the game makes less sense. Patrick McEnroe, General Manager of Player Development at the United States Tennis Association, said the possibility of talented youngsters eschewing tennis for more lucrative sports “is what keeps me up at night. If you have a 7 year old, it’s much easier to sign him up for basketball than tennis. The challenge with tennis, is that once they’re exposed, it takes a lot of time and organization to make players significantly better.”

It’s what keeps me up at night too, PMac.  It’s fairly horrifying to know that these players whom I regularly watch, these guys who are so damn talented, might have to give up the game simply because, that particular year, they weren’t making ends meet.  With the average age of the Top 100 escalating to around 27-years-old, this is kind of akin to a player having to submit to a years-long unpaid internship, as they struggle with the grind of everything else on tour.  Maybe next year is the year they would’ve broke through, but they have to quit this year because they can’t make ends meet.

What a nightmare.

And it’s why players are scurrying to challengers all over the world this week, trying to earn those ATPoints that will get them into the main draw of the Australian Open, where just appearing in the draw earns players $23,000.

The next articles are a bit more upbeat, thankfully.  This business insider article continues with the monetary theme but with a brighter fiscal forecast. It’s, I dunno, comforting (?) to know that after some of these players quit because they can’t make money, maybe they’ll make lots of money after they quit.  It’s reverse incentivising.  Or something.

Maybe it’s just due to my poor memory, but what I’ve found is that when players on the lower circuits retire, there’s no announcement, no fanfare at all. And sometimes it takes weeks or months before I’m looking at a draw and think, “Hey, whatever happened to…” [insert player name]. I’m happy to find some of them folk in the confines of this Business Insider piece.

I see you, Barry King!

I see you, Barry King!

Foot Soldiers of Tennis has weighed in with its annual look at which players have successfully qualified for the most ATP World Tour events this year, a.k.a. the Kings of Qualifying. So click the link and find out who is the biggest KOQ.

The East Central Illinois News Gazette offers a well-written and -researched look at Rajeev Ram returning to the Champaign Challenger at the place where he was part of the legendary 2003 NCAA-champion 32-0 Illini team of 2003.  It also hits on other members of the team, past and present.

Lastly — and speaking of former college stars — this week’s Challenger Tour Finals participant and 2009 ITA Player of the Year, Oleksandr Nedovyesov is the focus of Josh Meiseles’s excellent article for the ATP World Tour website, describing the decision-making parameters inherent in a player’s choice to either turn pro or play for a top U.S. school.

The 26-year-old Ukrainian has been on W.A.T.C.H. Lists aplenty as he’s gobbled up titles and soared to a spot in the Top 100.

That’s all for now. Tune in whenever the next day is that I decide is Sunday!

*two weeks now and running strong!

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