Tennis Players to Get Pay Boost to Improve Sport’s Lowest Levels

Prize money at the lowest levels of the professional tennis circuit will be increased by as much as 66 percent to ease the transition to the top ranks from juniors.

The ITF Pro Circuit decision comes after a survey of 8,000 athletes, coaches, national associations and tournament organizers found that players have to be ranked at least No. 336 on the men’s ATP World Tour or No. 253 on the women’s WTA tour to start earning money. It put the average cost of playing professional tennis last year at $38,800 for men and $40,180 for women.

The pro circuit is “the engine room of professional tennis,” said Kris Dent, director of professional tennis at the ITF. In the past decade, players have needed an additional year to reach the top levels of the sport, he said.

“I want to see more players being able to cover their costs because it’s taking longer for a junior to break into the top 100,” he said. “Players are fitter and generally playing longer.”

The ITF Pro Circuit is made up of men’s tournaments with total prize money pots of $10,000 and $15,000. Men’s events with purses over $15,000 are run by the ATP Challenger Tour, the stepping stone to main men’s tour. Women’s tennis has a different setup, with the ITF Pro Circuit runing events with purses ranging from $10,000 to $100,000.

Pay Increase

Under the proposals, the men’s ITF events would rise to $15,000 and $25,000, while the women’s tournaments would range from $15,000 to $125,000. Each player will get a per diem payment while they are competing to cover living expenses.

Of a total prize money of $162 million on the men’s tour in 2013, 60 percent ended up in the pockets of the top 50 players, or 1 percent of all ranked men. In the women’s game, the top 26, or 1 percent of all ranked female players, earned 51 percent of a total purse of $120 million.

The only two professional players not to have played on the ITF Pro circuit or junior events are top-ranked Serena Williams and her sister Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champion, Dent said.

“The next generation of superstars is created here,” he said. “The state of game for next generations is very dependent on the bottom of the performance pyramid being fit for purpose. How we do ensure that we get the best people coming into tennis, and how do we keep them and make sure that fulfill their potential?”

The ITF also looked at the structural side of the circuit.

Regional Pressures

Tennis is played professionally by more than 200 nations. Wary of “a trend toward a Europeanization of the game,” the ITF wants to make sure to give equal opportunities to every player, Dent said.

“The big growth of tournament numbers is coming in Europe,” he said. “It is clear from having spoken to regional associations, presidents of associations and to people on the ground in Africa, parts of Asia and South America that they struggle to find the funding to put on the number of professional events that they would like to.”

The ITF wants to add a new layer of tournaments -- with either minimal prize money or hospitality only -- in between the junior and pro circuit to give developing tennis nations the chance to host more events.

Players including 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray of Britain and 17-time major-winner Roger Federer of Switzerland have campaigned for higher pay on the lower ranks for years.

Cutting Players

Earlier this year, the men’s tour boosted prize money at the ATP Challenger Tour. Pay on the Challenger 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. Last week, the ATP said it would raise player compensation to $135 million by 2018.

The four Grand Slam events have also increased pay for early-round losers in the past three years.

The ITF wants to raise prize money while at the same reduce the number of players competing professionally. There were 14,000 professional tennis players on the men’s and women’s circuits in 2013, of which 6,000 didn’t make any prize money at all.

“Nine thousand people breaking even is simply unsustainable and not realistic,” Dent said. “There is not that income in the game. That’s part of the reason why we want to introduce this interim tour.”

The proposals will be put to the ITF board in March, and come into effect from 2016.

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