Tennis Tries to Spread the Wealth

    • Major tennis tournaments have sought to spread prize money to less accomplished players during the pandemic.
    • Some players, including world #1 Novak Djokovic, advocate an organization that could bargain on behalf of players.

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Tennis is not like other sports.

Professional players are on their own when it comes to paying coaches, trainers, and travel expenses, so COVID has hit especially hard — and there are no teams or leagues to provide a buffer from the economic impact of canceled games and empty stands.

With the pandemic cutting into prize money, the tennis community is stepping up efforts to spread the wealth in one of the most financially stratified sports.

Despite a smaller overall prize pool, the French, Australian, and U.S. Opens raised rewards for making it through the earlier rounds while substantially cutting prize money for the final rounds.

Last September at the U.S. Open, top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Vasek Popisil, who is currently 67th among male players, made the case for a players organization that could negotiate with tournaments and organize boycotts if necessary.

Tension spilled onto the court during the Miami Open. Popisil was docked a point — which cost him a set — for an on-court tirade about a recent meeting he had with ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi.

Popisil told the chair judge that Gaudenzi was “screaming at me in a player meeting for trying to unite the players – for an hour and a half. … If you want to default me, I’ll gladly sue this whole organization.”

Though the pandemic is easing, the financial issues are here to stay in a sport where it is difficult for all but around 100-200 players to make a good living while covering costs.