On the day when Wimbledon announced it is to raise its overall prize money by 40 percent and pay its singles champions 1.6 million pounds, perhaps it is worth looking a little further down the food chain. There are many players who will never have a chance to win a grand slam title, may not even win a title of any kind. And yet, thanks to the (recently extra) generous souls at the four grand slam events, their pay cheques have been greatly enhanced.
It is the fashion these days to say tennis players are underpaid, that they deserve a greater share of the pie they are so crucial to providing in the first place through their ability and charisma. For the likes of Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and to a lesser extent, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, that may be true. For others, though, perhaps they should be thankful to be riding on the coat-tails of the chosen ones and picking up a windfall as a result.
No one is suggesting that top players – let’s say those in the top 100 – do not deserve the chance to play for big rewards. Compare them to other sports and indeed other careers; if you are the hundredth best at your chosen job then the chances are you are very, very good at what you do. But perhaps there needs to be a little perspective added into the mix.
A case in point? Robin Haase. The Dutchman, who by the way could easily pass as a double for former Holland football star Ruud van Nistelrooy, is hugely talented and has had his moments over the past few years, even if he has never quite fulfilled that talent. That said, just last summer he was ranked a career-high No 33 and even until last week he was inside the top 50. Losing points from a good run this time last year means he is No 71 at the time of writing but it might surprise you to know that during 2012 – the best year of his career in terms of ranking – he lost in the first round in 17 ATP Tour events.
That’s right, I said 17. That’s 17 out of 27 regular Tour events, including grand slams. He finished with a record of 19 wins, 28 losses. But here’s the thing. He won $441,875, in singles alone. That’s not bad for someone who in 17 events, did not win a match. How did he do it? By timing his efforts well. Specifically, he won a title, in Kitzbuhel, to earn $64,000; he reached a Masters Series quarter-final in Monte Carlo to pocket $57,000 and the increases in prize money for early losers in the slams helped him immensely.
Again, Haase has doubtless worked hard to get to this point in his career and the fact that he is now losing far more than he is winning does not mean he doesn’t deserve to make a good living. Tennis players incur huge expenses in travel and accommodation. They are also used to losing; since 1973, only 264 men have finished their careers with a better than 50 percent win-loss record. Of current players, only 50 have managed it. Some of players’ losses come at the end of their careers and perhaps skew the figures slightly, but it’s clear that winning is not easy.
But for players like Haase, and there are many like him, the new prize money increases are hugely beneficial. You can effectively lose and still win, financially. Is that right? Does it mean players have to push themselves week after week? Maybe not. They just need to get their timing right.
For the record, Haase’s defeat in Barcelona on Monday means he has now lost in the first round nine times this year and has amassed $135,000 (not including his Barcelona cheque). Nice work if you can get it.