Hit by losses, tennis players seek different paying field
At the best of times, tennis players in lower rungs eke out an existence far removed from the elite. And the Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed a yawning gap in pay among players based on rankings. Financial help provided to the pros to help tide over the crisis has further highlighted disparity in a sport with “one of the most extreme levels of inequality”, as Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ French coach, says.
In May, tennis’ governing bodies—International Tennis Federation (ITF), men’s ATP, women’s WTA and the four Grand Slams—joined hands to raise over $6 million to compensate lower-ranked players struggling due to the ‘no play, no income’ period after the tours were halted in March. ITF, which organises lower-rung professional events, announced its own package last month to support players not covered by this Player Relief Programme (PRP).
Cash-starved Indian pros—none is in the world’s top 100 in singles—have welcomed the support. Still, not everyone is on the same level when one would have expected tennis authorities to focus their assistance on the most needy and vulnerable.
World No.438 Sidharth Rawat received around $4,300 from ATP as a first instalment in May. A similar sum is expected this month. But India’s next best singles player, Manish Sureshkumar at world No.642, only got a one-time payment of $750 from ITF. The relief is directly proportionate to ranking—PRP gives around $8,600 each (in two instalments) to men’s singles players ranked from 101-500, and half the sum to doubles players ranked from 51-175. For women, the ranking cut-off is the same though the amount is reportedly around $10,000 (paid in two tranches). The fund also takes into account past prize money.
For a month, players ranked below 500 were not considered for relief until ITF announced a ‘comprehensive package’ in June. It comprised $1,000 to singles players ranked from 501-600, $750 for those from 601-700 as well as doubles players from 176-300, both men and women.
Besides the one-tenth drop in amount, the mode of payment also differs. ATP and WTA directly transfer funds into a player’s account while ITF hands it to the national associations. The players have to send a request to home associations for payment, which can extend their wait.
Arjun Kadhe, 26, ranked 655 in singles and 231 in doubles, is eligible for relief from ITF on the basis of both the rankings, but will get only one payment. He received his money a few days ago. Kadhe feels $750 won’t make a difference as the tours are due to resume in August.
“I can probably arrange for flight tickets for the first couple of tournaments when things start off with the money, nothing more than that,” the Pune-based player said. “Right now, expenses aren’t much because we aren’t travelling. But once our training begins, expenses will start rightaway. I’m happy I got some money to get through this period, but it’s not something that will change things a lot. These are difficult times financially.”
Rutuja Bhosale, India’s second-best women’s doubles player ranked 196, is also among the fewer than 10 Indians in the ITF beneficiaries’ list. “I did receive the amount, though I don’t know how much it will help going into the season once it starts. I guess something is better than nothing.” the 24-year-old said.
Nagal, Raina receive relief funds
The ATP and WTA funds also have other Indian pros in its list of 800. India’s top-ranked singles players, Sumit Nagal (127) and Ankita Raina (163), both confirmed receiving part of the financial assistance.
Saketh Myneni, who won two doubles medals at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, is ranked 425 in singles. His doubles ranking of 180 makes him eligible for ITF’s $750 but the 32-year-old won’t get that as he has already received a much larger sum from ATP owing to his singles ranking. “It’s great for the associations to get things sorted for the players. It’s tough to put the criteria together and arrive at a decision. There are always going to be positives and negatives in these things. I’m in constant touch with the young guys to ensure they coordinate with the authorities concerned and get the ITF money,” Myneni said.
Delhi’s Rawat was relieved when ATP’s first instalment of approximately $4,300 was credited in his account.
“This was badly needed for India’s lower-ranked players,” he said. “Since I’m not making any money now, this will help me fund a few tournaments when the tour resumes. If I play decent in them, it will kick-start my earning cycle again.”