Pune: The tennis calendar, along with the rest of the world sporting calendar, came to an abrupt halt recently as the COVID-19 pandemic took a turn for the worse last month.
On March 19, the ATP and WTA Tours announced the suspension of their respective tours, and a further suspension later saw tennis worldwide currently halted up to July 13.
While many fans around the world are upset about missing out on significant events such as the French Open (postponed to September), Wimbledon (cancelled for the year), Indian Wells Masters, Miami Masters and more, tennis players themselves, who are ranked below the 200s or 250s, are more worried about making a living for themselves.
Athletes in individual sports like tennis rely on their earnings from playing week after week and their winnings from matches to able to sustain a lifestyle that demands a lot due to the nature of the sport, and factors such as travel, equipment, training, coach fees, etc. that are involved.
These players hit rock bottom, to say, more due to the uncertainty involved in when they could return to the court, and how long would they have to depend on their savings to sustain. Most of these players are fairly young, and would not even have that many funds set aside as savings.
If things do not return to normal soon, tennis runs the risk of losing out many of these players to alternate career options picked just to be able to survive.
TOP PLAYERS STEP UP
In a bid to help these players sustain themselves and stick to the sport they love, the top players in the world, led by the ‘Big 3’ of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic and with help from the ATP and the four Grand Slams, have decided to contribute amounts to a certain ‘Player Relief Fund’ that will be distributed among lower-ranked players.
Speaking during an Instagram chat with a fellow player and great rival Stan Wawrinka on Saturday, Djokovic spoke about the intention of tennis’ top players to lend a hand and lift the ‘future of the sport.’
“I spoke to Roger and Rafa a few days ago, we had a conversation about the near future of tennis and how we can contribute to help the lower-ranked guys who are struggling the most,” said Djokovic. “The majority of the players ranked below 200 or 250 right to the 700th or 1000th in the world do not have any federation support or sponsors and are often left alone and all on their own. Guys who are ranked between 200-250, especially to 700, are thinking of leaving tennis right now,” he added.
Djokovic is the president of the ATP Players’ Council, which also includes Federer and Nadal.
Djokovic expressed that the players, along with the ATP and Grand Slams will get together and contribute amounts to a player relief fund which will be distributed to the lower-ranked players, based on certain criteria and models.
Some players fall into the category of ‘lower-ranked’ but might not need the funds as they have played for many years and were formerly top 50 or 100 players and are well to do. Djokovic said that these factors would be considered and the amount will be given to those in need of it more than others.
“ATP is working on the criteria. It looks like; hopefully, somewhere around 3.5-4 million dollars will be collected as of now,” he said, adding that other amounts like prize money from events such as ATP World Tour finals, where the top eight players play, and the final bonus pools for top players, can also be used for the fund going ahead. “If no more events happen this year, then we can take a certain percentage from our prize money from the Australian Open this year and contribute as well,” he added.
He also pushed the idea of converting this initiative into a long-term plan that will require the top governing bodies of the sport, like the ITF which is the longest standing governing body in tennis, the ATP, WTA, Grand Slams, and the players, to all work together and support the players in need, both men and women, giving them a better way of transitioning from the lower level to the top level.
During the discussion, Wawrinka also gave his thoughts on the current situation, saying that even if officials decide to play behind closed doors, there are still around 2000 people that are involved in making a major event take place. “How do we handle all that? We all come from so many different countries in the world and gather at one place to play an event,” said Wawrinka.
Adding to the same, Djokovic said that there are many question marks at the moment and that the sport will maybe have to look at ‘other concepts’. He also spoke of a possible ‘obligatory vaccination’ that tennis players might have to take if they are going to travel all around the world.
These guys are the future of tennis, they are the grassroots, and we need to tell them that they can still rely on us top guys to help them and that tennis can still provide for them, said Djokovic.