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Tuesday, June 02, 2020

‘If you’re not in top 100, you’ll struggle’: Vijay Amritraj

Although the higher-ranked players may have enough savings to help them get by during the outbreak, those lower down the charts would be dealt with a harsh blow with the tour suspension.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai | Updated: April 7, 2020 8:20:08 am
vijay amritraj, amritraj, vijay amritraj tennis, indian tennis, wimbledon, french open, tennis news Vijay Amritraj believes that lockdown won’t affect stars like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer. (Source: File Photo)

The word ‘suspended’ has been added, rather grimly, next to the name of each event on the ATP and WTA calendars till July 13. With this upheaval wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, a substantial amount of prize money that would have been distributed among players now remains unachievable. Since mid-March, when the Indian Wells Masters 1000 became the first event to be cancelled, a total prize purse of $56,834,845 and $34,224,127 on the ATP and WTA tours respectively (not including lower-level events) now stands as null and void till mid-July. These figures don’t include what would have been available at the Wimbledon Championships, where the prize purse was $46,625,829 last year.

The income of a tennis professional involves the prize money based on the stage of a tournament they reach – this excludes any sponsorship deals they may cut off court. But now that the tour has been suspended, there is no income at least till July.

The higher-ranked players may have enough savings to help them get by. But for those lower down the charts, or the upcoming ones who are yet to make their mark, the tour suspension deals them a harsh blow. And as India tennis legend and former World No. 18 Vijay Amritraj asserts, they have no choice but to endure.

“If you’re not in the top 100, you will struggle,” Amritraj, 66, told The Indian Express. “Potentially, I would hazard a guess that there are at least 1,000 men and women in that category who rely on the tour to get better and move up to the Challenger circuit, the tour level, eke out a living from whatever amount they make over the course of the year, with or without any help from governments or sponsors and so on.

“The unfortunate issue is, like every other independent contractor or business in the world, you are not covered for anything. The ITF, ATP, WTA, they are all independent bodies that are pretty much non-profit. They don’t have large cash reserves like various governments may have to support the system. This is a high-risk venture the moment you step into it, which is where we are all stuck unfortunately.”

READ | Tennis faces break point after cancellation of Wimbledon

On March 19, current world no 375 in singles, Sofia Shapatava of Georgia started an online petition to get the ITF involved in relief work for lower-ranked players since “many companies have organised paid leave for their employees and tennis players should also be considered an ‘employee’ of world’s tennis organisations.” As of Monday, 1,726 people have signed the petition.

In all likelihood, the players in this category are the ones who aren’t ranked high enough to qualify for tour events and are therefore unable to try and earn money from the multi-million-dollar prize purse.

Indians better off

Sidharth Rawat makes around 1000 to 1200 dollars a month now. (Source: File Photo)

Though, India’s Sidharth Rawat has signed the petition that Shapatava floated, the 26-year-old World No. 438 says he is relatively comfortable for the time being but things can get tough once the tour finally opens up. “Right now, I can sustain on my savings till maybe September or October. After that, I’ll be struggling. You don’t know how much money you will have left and how much you can invest because you don’t know how expensive flights will be then. Mostly I used to play in China and other Asian countries to minimise travel costs. Now that too will be a problem as well.”

Giving details about his income he says: “On average, I make around 1000 to 1200 dollars a month, so right now I’m living off the savings and contributing to the expenses at home with my family.”

World No. 443 Rutuja Bhosale, 24, points out that the Indians are better off than players in Western countries. “I spoke to my doubles partner, who is an American. They all live away from family which means they have to pay for rent apart from other expenses on essentials. In that way, we’re a bit better because in our culture it’s normal for people staying at their parents’ home. So right now I’m staying in Shrirampur (in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra) with my parents,” she says. “Some people with office jobs are doing the whole work-from-home thing. So they are still making money. But we can’t do that. We aren’t paying rent, and the expenses are low, but the expenses are still there.”

READ | What the French Open rejig means for players

Lockdown doesn’t bother stars

On the other side of the spectrum however, there are players for whom the tour’s suspension means something completely different.

“At the highest level, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and all are not playing for the money anymore, they’re playing for the history,” says Amritraj, a former ATP president. “Rafa (winner of 19 Grand Slams) could potentially have won the French Open to tie with Federer (who has won 20 majors), Djokovic could have potentially won another Wimbledon. It seems a bit far-fetched to talk about all this given the current circumstances, but each individual has their own disappointments.”

For Federer and Serena Williams, at 38, just a month younger than the Swiss – half the season being called off – there’s also been talk for the entire calendar getting cancelled – may prove to be all the more damaging.

“In Roger and Serena’s case where age is a factor, every six months makes a big difference,” Amritraj adds. “When Indian Wells was cancelled, we felt that Roger was in the best position because he had taken time off and that he would be back for Wimbledon, and that he’s probably the only one laughing. But now on the other hand, with the year suddenly gone, it’s a big year for him to lose from his perspective.”

READ | With Wimbledon lost, Federer and Serena are running out of time

As it stands, there is a chance that the Australian Open, that took place in January, may be the only Grand Slam event this year – the event in Melbourne too was in doubt because of the bushfires that had engulfed the country at the time. Wimbledon has already been cancelled, now there’s a chance that the US Open, scheduled to start on August 30, may be called off as well.

“(The US Open) remains a bit dodgy right now, but the more important issue is that when life – as we potentially know it – comes back to normal, concerts, sporting events, conventions or anything where there are large crowds or things like that, those will be the last things to take place.” Putting 50,000 people in one facility is not advisable, Amritraj says.

“(But when the tour resumes) across the board, it’s going to be hard. It’s not that one person is going to have an advantage. People who would have been good on grass have lost that entire season to make their points, same for clay.

“This (pandemic) just puts sport into perspective. We have all the geniuses in the world, in every country, working on this. People are saying this is very close to the flu, and still here we are (struggling). This is much bigger than anything.”

Here’s a list of important events that were scheduled to take place after the Wimbledon Championships, and how their respective venues are currently coping with the pandemic.

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