Hello and welcome to the 37th issue of Tennis inbox. Money troubles for players trying to breakthrough, Courier defends Djokovic, coronavirus shuts down play for a day, and mental training for tennis. Read on to find out more.
How hard is it being #1755 in the world?
I’ve written before about how difficult it is to break into the top echelon of tennis and how the prizemoney structure creates a ferris-wheel of inequality for lower-ranked players. It’s going to be an evergreen topic—at least until more players are able to make a living through playing tennis.
An article published in Marketwatch by Steven Kutz allows us to get a first-hand view of the struggles of a player trying to breakthrough. Kutz tells Abraham Asaba’s story—of being born in Ghana, moving to the United States to train and play in college, and then his journey on the ITF Futures Tour.
When the article was written, Asaba was working full-time at a New York-based hedge fund in an entry-level job in investor relations which gave him just enough money to pay for his travel to tournaments. His expenses for one week at a tournament in Harligen, Texas were $1,368. How much would he have made if had won that tournament? $2,500. Not much at all.
Kutz’s article also covers Noah Rubin’s case, the Junior Wimbledon winner who runs the popular Instagram page Behind the Racquet. In 2019, Rubin, who was ranked around 200, earned $158,548 but only walked away with $60,000 after expenses and taxes. That’s like having a mid to low-level job in marketing—except that you’re a world-class athlete and have probably already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into your development. Before you say, “Yeah, but that’s what some people spend on a college education, so how much he’s earning isn’t that bad,” consider that Rubin was among the top 200 individuals in the world in his chosen career. If you’re at that level in almost any career, I’d wager that you’re making way more than $60,000.
Former World #1 Jim Courier is quoted in the article, saying:
“Early on, it is challenging. You’re not making a living at futures. You need to make it to challengers and then Grand Slam qualifying to keep the lights on and pursue your dream. It takes time. He must be smart about managing his finances.”
Tennis is unique in that professional players ranked outside of the top 250ish struggle to make a living. Comparing it to other sports isn’t really fair, in that tennis is an individual sport, and it’s not exactly an honest statement to say “If the 300th best soccer player in the world can be on a contract for $450,000, why can’t that happen in tennis?” But still, the spread of prizemoney and the lack of financial support at the lower levels is a constant gripe among aspiring tennis players and those who know about the tours.
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Jim Courier defends Novak Djokovic
Speaking of the American player turned commentator, Courier said that the way Djokovic was treated for his suggestions for quarantined players had been a “miscarriage of justice.” If you recall, a few weeks ago Novak Djokovic was castigated by many commentators for requesting better equipment, food, and perhaps even houses with tennis courts for players not allowed out of their hotel rooms for 14 days. I wrote on Djokovic’s requests:
“If he were a shrewd competitor, Djokovic would have kept his mouth shut and let players complete their 14-day lockdowns without any practice on an actual tennis court. After all, players in worse form is a boon for him. Yet he wrote in asking for better conditions for them. That seems like a pretty considerate thing to do.“
Well, Courier seemed to have a similar sentiment, saying:
“What’s really important to remember is that Novak didn’t need any of the things that he was suggesting. He was the one who had a balcony, he had access to the court for five hours a day to do his training and his off-court training. What he was asking for was help for the people that are going to try and beat him at the Australian Open. That’s really important to note: he was helping the people that he’s going to compete against. Because while some of the things he asked for are still pie in the sky – the house with the tennis court, all of those things, it’s so completely unrealistic – but it was still done with the intention to help his competitors and I think that’s been lost in the shuffle.”
Courier’s point makes sense. But there is a cadre of tennis fans interested in hating on Djokovic with scant reason. And I’m sure it’ll be difficult to change their minds!
Ash Barty returns!
World #1 Ash Barty had been conspicuously absent from the tour in 2020, not wanting to travel because of the coronavirus.
Her return to competitive tennis has gotten underway in Melbourne in 2021, with Barty moving into the quarterfinals to play American Shelby Rogers next. Barty beat Romanian Ana Bogdan and then Czech Marie Bouzkova to make it to the final eight.
In a women’s game dominated by powerful baseline striking, Barty’s aggressive and varied style, which includes heavy use of a slice backhand and a willingness to come to the net often is a refreshing change—at least from a viewer’s perspective.
Barty is also playing doubles with American Jennifer Brady. Brady—if you haven’t seen her play—has a big serve and a heavy forehand. The pair have made it to the quarterfinals in the doubles draw.
All tournaments postponed due to coronavirus
There was no play in Melbourne on Thursday 4th February due to a positive covid test by a 26-year-old man who had been working at the Grand Hyatt Hotel during player quarantine.
Because of this, Tennis Australia announced that all matches scheduled on Thursday would be postponed a day to give casual contacts—which could be up to 600 people (players, coaches, support staff, etc.)—a chance to get tested. The postponement of play will also give Tennis Australia and the Victorian government a chance to get a handle on just how bad the situation is.
There is a lot of tennis in progress during a jam-packed lead-up week at Melbourne Park. In all, 62 matches were postponed. The Australian Open is scheduled to start on Monday. Let’s hope that we can stick to that start date (if it’s safe to do so).
Is your mental game holding you back?
We all know that talented player who could never put it all together mentally and achieve their potential. Or we’ve all struggled with the mental side of competing. In fact, it’s one of the aspects of tennis that makes it so alluring—that so much of the outcome can be dependent upon what’s going on between your ears as opposed to what kinds of strokes you can produce.
I’m trying to focus on the mental side of the game lately and found a great podcast episode on the topic. It features Joey Johnson, who is a mindset development expert on The Tennis Files. Author of Worthy to Win, which outlines an 8-step mental process to help achieve breakthroughs in performance, he’s worked with athletes of all standards including players on the professionals on tour.
From the show description:
“On the show, you’ll learn why players engage in self-sabotage and how can they stop doing it, why a process-based mindset is critical for improvement, how to tap into the power of pressure, key mental toughness principles from “Worthy to Win”, how to achieve peak performance, and much more!”
I hope you find it useful because I certainly got a lot out of it.
Image credit: Carine06