The accumulated costs of being a professional tennis player do receive attention every now and then, but it is important to remember that in a sport as loosely and poorly governed as tennis, the presence of media coverage hardly means that needed reforms will immediately occur.
One demonstration of tennis’s lack of responsiveness to problems is the comparative lack of beefed-up prize money allocated to the ITF circuit, the realm of challenger events one notch below WTA and ATP Tour competition. It is very hard to make a living for the players who aren’t getting into the main draws of the four majors and the tier of tournaments below them (Premier 5s/Mandatories for the WTA, Masters 1000 for the ATP).
When one is exposed to questions of money in tennis, prize money for various tournaments is a highly common point of focus.
What gets less attention than prize money? Lots of things, but one of them is the stipend.
This is great — it shows that a highly-resourced tournament is taking player needs very seriously. It might not be a complete solution to the larger problem of prize money, but it represents a step in the right direction. The obvious flaw: Why can’t a small percentage of the money involved in a major-tournament purse go to providing substantial stipends throughout professional tennis, very much including the challengers, which are essentially the minor leagues of tennis?
The 2019 Australian Open singles champions won nearly $3 million (U.S.) Imagine slicing $300,000 from that first-place prize (women and men, so $600,000 total) and distributing it to the challenger circuit. Then imagine all four majors making a similar cut. That would represent a redistribution of $2.4 million to challenger tennis for either stipends or prize money (if not both).
Should this be a prize money issue instead of a stipend issue? Maybe — and I’m not really trying to argue for one side or against another.
My larger point is that stipends shouldn’t be ignored in any discussion about providing for players and taking care of them. Reform is a larger discussion than just prize money alone.
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