© Ella Ling

Monte Carlo 2

Becoming a tennis pensioner

Interview with Nenad Zimonjic, a former doubles world number one and former Wimbledon and Roland Garros champion, on the importance of the ATP World Tour’s pension scheme. The Serbian has disclosed that qualifying for the pension was one of his first goals in tennis, as he strove to give himself some financial security in retirement.
“The pension fund is very important for the future of tennis,” said Zimonjic, who turns 38 in June. With record contributions being made to the ATP World Tour’s pension scheme – more than 6.5 million US dollars in 2013 – Zimonjic has suggested that the prospect of financial security in retirement ought to encourage more young athletes to aspire to be a professional tennis player. The best 165 players at the ATP World Tour events – 125 singles players and 40 doubles players – qualify every season for a year of service, with players needing five years of service to vest into the plan. Payments start at the age of 50 for a 20-year period, with the retirement plan including life insurance coverage. From its beginnings in 1990, the ATP’s pension scheme now has more than 800 participants, and has almost reached 100 million US dollars in assets.
How much thought does the current generation of players put into their lives after tennis?
“I’m sure everybody thinks in a different way, but I’m also sure that everybody is thinking about life after playing tennis professionally because that’s not something that can last for so long. The pension is something that can help – it benefits a lot of players, as it gives you security. As a professional player, when you start each year, you don’t know much money you are going to make, and there’s the possibility that you could get injured, so there are lots of things you can think of. So to have the pension gives you security for later in life. The pension fund is very important for the future of tennis. As a parent, of course you want your child to do something they like, but you also want them to have some kind of security.”
So you think the pension will encourage young athletes to go into tennis? “I think it’s one of the things that could help – one of the other things that could help is that more professional players make a living from the sport. There are maybe 200 players who break even or make something, and the rest they need sponsors, or some help, maybe from their federation. That can improve a lot in the future in tennis.”
How important was it to qualify for the ATP’s pension scheme?  “One of my first goals in tennis was to qualify for a pension. I thought that would be really beneficial, and would really help me in the future. Qualifying for the pension is not an easy thing to do. You need to be at the top of the rankings for many years. The way our ranking system works – you have to perform every year to maintain your ranking – it’s not an easy thing to do to qualify for the pension. Over the years, not too many guys achieve this.”
Have you spoken to many players about what life is like in retirement, perhaps about managing finances? “Some guys are more successful after their playing careers. Some guys stay involved in tennis, some guys just want a break from this lifestyle and anything to do with tennis. They want a long, long break from it. So everyone’s different. But it’s definitely a huge change when you stop playing. It’s a huge change of lifestyle – when you’re playing, you could travel for up to ten months a year, and then in retirement maybe you’re based somewhere for ten months and you’re travelling for just two months. You have to adapt to that. I would say that 80 per cent or more of the guys will end up working in retirement. There aren’t many guys who can just relax for the rest of their lives.”
So it’s even more important to have a pension? “Yes, then you have a guarantee that if something happens to you, if you can’t work, or if you can’t make money, you will have that security. And I hope that the numbers are going to continue going up. For the guys who are coming up now, it’s going to be even better in retirement.”
Are the record pension contributions a sign that the ATP World Tour is in a strong financial position? “Definitely. That’s how it is supposed to work. If the tournaments and the tour are doing well, and they’re making money, the players should be rewarded, as there wouldn’t be any tournaments without players. So they should share that success with the players. And it’s a good way to do it, through the pension fund.”
What are your plans in retirement? “I would definitely like to stay in tennis in some way. I don’t know exactly what. I’ll see what the opportunities are going to be. This is something I’ve been doing all my life. It’s something I know and something that I enjoy the most, so this is something I would like to carry on doing. Besides that, maybe some investments or some other businesses. But right now, as I’m still playing and competing, it’s kind of difficult. I think you have to commit 100 per cent to anything you do if you want to be good at it.”
  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I did not even know there was a pension plan but I am glad to hear it. It’s nice to hear that a fair number of players have qualified.

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