Tennis’s Challenger Tour for lower-ranked men needs a boost in prize money to ensure more of them can earn a living as the cost of playing increases, the president of the ATP tour said.
Pay on the ATP Challenger Tour, a stepping stone to the main circuit, has lagged behind the ATP World Tour in the past decade. Prize money on the men’s tour jumped 57 percent to almost $86 million in the 10 years to 2013, compared with a 31 percent gain to $9 million in Challenger events.
“The cost for players now of playing professionally, with coaches and physios and nutritionists, is significant,” Chris Kermode, a 49-year-old former tennis pro who has been leading the ATP since January, said in an interview in London.
“To maintain the standard, we need to be paying across the board,” said Kermode, who’s also executive chairman of the ATP.
“Do we want to increase prize money at Challenger level? Yes, and we are doing.”
Earlier this year, the ATP lifted prize money for Challenger events with $35,000 prize money to $40,000, and offered free hotels and physiotherapy for a number of tournaments with a prize money pot of $50,000. Pay for exiting in the early rounds of the sport’s four majors -- Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. Opens -- has also risen in the past three years. More remains to be done, Kermode said.
The annual cost of playing pro tennis including travel with a coach was estimated at $143,000 in a 2010 study by the U.S. Tennis Association. It can take players three or four years to break into the top 100, if they manage to do so, while the average career on tour lasts seven years.
Players including Wimbledon champion Andy Murray of Britain and 17-time major-winner Roger Federer of Switzerland have asked for an improvement in pay for lower-ranked players for years.
Boosting prize money on the lower levels is not only necessary to make sure players can “earn a living” and don’t push themselves too hard physically, it’s also important for the integrity of the sport as whole, Kermode said.
“Sport is about being real,” he said. “And as soon as it isn’t it has no meaning. I feel very responsible to be on top of that.”
Kermode, a former tournament director of the grass-court Queen’s Club event in London and managing director of the ATP World Tour Finals, has appointed a five-man working group to review the Challenger Tour. He took the decision after going on a “listening tour” at the start of the year during which he talked to players from the top to the lower ranks, tournament directors, media, fans and various other stakeholders.
The working group, which first met in Dubai in March, will convene again at Wimbledon in June and come up with proposals on items such as prize money and an overhaul of the tournament structure. Kermode expects to present a three-year Challenger calendar by the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 25 in New York.
Although more prize money is important, aligning the ATP and Challenger calendars is “just as crucial,” Kermode said.
“It’s a question of, are they in the right place at the right time? Does a Challenger tournament fit in with maybe playing a qualifying tournament for a big ATP event? Then, if you don’t qualify you can play in a Challenger that runs alongside.”
Kermode said it was “too early to tell” if some Challenger events may be taken off the calendar altogether. There are currently 151 Challenger tournaments in more than 40 countries.