On one side of the court stands a man regarded by many as the greatest player ever to have graced the sport. The fluidity of his movements, his effortless shot making and his very presence seem to conjure an aura of genius. On the other side, a man, five years younger, gets ready to challenge him for the title.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played, what John McEnroe described as “the greatest game of tennis ever played” in the 2008 Wimbledon final. Even before that epic encounter at Wimbledon, tennis had managed to capture the imagination of people worldwide. This sport brings with it the promise of global acclaim and a legacy that will stand the test of time. Yet, the sport has its share of problems.
Tennis is an expensive sport and the average money earned is not too high. The difference in the average earnings of the top 20 players as compared to those in the ranks between 50 and 100 is gaping. It is this difference that prompted former player Pat Cash to state that tennis is the toughest sport to play in the world, not just because of the sheer physicality and competitiveness, but also because sustaining oneself on tour is very expensive.
Unlike other popular team sports such as football or cricket, there are a lot of personal expenses in tennis. Travelling costs are the biggest burden for most tennis players and sponsorship plays a crucial role. The sponsor takes care of the accommodation, food and travel for the sponsored player and his entourage which consists of the coach, physical fitness trainer, mental fitness trainer, a companion and agents. While the famous names in the sport face no problem in getting sponsors, it is not so easy for the lesser known players. Shortage of funds has halted the growth of many players from India and upcoming player Ramkumar Ramanathan informed, “The industry’s standard remuneration for a good coach is around $1,000 a week, travel and stay expenses and 10-15% of the prize money. But it varies depending on the scale of the tournament.” He also informed that Rs. 50 lakh would be a good year round budget. But it is a steep amount, especially in a country where the players do not receive much support from the All India Tennis Association (AITA).
Ramkumar, fortunately, had the support of his father, the International Management Group (IMG), and the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA), as well as the option of falling back on his own earnings. The TNTA’s Vice-President
Karti Chidambaram feels players like Ramkumar and Yuki Bhambri, who have potential, deserve funding of around $30,000 (about Rs. 20 lakh) a year. For players who do not manage to garner enough financial support, there is the option of investments. Many organisations through online sites like InvolvedFan.com help to raise money for cash strapped young tennis players. A donation of £30 will bring a signed thank you card and £60 may get one a signed racquet or even a phone call from the player.
The AITA has roped in former tennis star Somdev Devvarman for the growth of tennis in India. Devvarman said, “There is a void in guidance, coaching, strength and conditioning and the list could well go on. I have to bring my expertise and make sure that things are in place for future players.” An official requesting anonymity said the AITA’s main job is to create infrastructure and host tournaments and not dish out cash. He said, “The AITA has to do more, but to say they don’t do anything is unfair. We had over 20 tournaments in India in 2015, which helped the likes of Ramkumar to be where they are today.”