So I’m at the U.S. Open this past year, and I’m enjoying my fifth Grey Goose Honey Deuce (for those of you who don’t know, this is the official drink of the 2009 U.S. Open … at least that’s what the bartender told me as she made eye contact with the tip jar). I’m walking the grounds with a smile on my face and without a care in the world. I take that back … I’m “stumbling” around the grounds with a smile on my face and without a care in the world, but I don’t care. It’s the two weeks of the year that I have always looked forward to ever since I was a kid.
I walk into the Ralph Lauren Polo store and a few people who are dressed like ballgirls greet me. One of the ballgirls talked me into buying some sweater that had a big horse on the back of it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but later when I checked my credit card statement online, I figured I pretty much could have bought a Hyundai Sonata.
While I’m walking the back grounds, I have my baseball cap hanging very low close to my eyes, along with a big pair of sunglasses on. The last thing I want is to be recognized by anyone. I want to be as incognito as I possibly can. The reason why I do this is because I’ve been involved in tennis in the New York area for the last 25 years. If I wasn’t in some type of disguise, I wouldn’t be able to walk five feet without bumping into someone I know. Then, I would have to waste time having some silly conversation about nothing, which would be accompanied by many fake smiles and a few “I told you so’s.” I would be more than happy to oblige this type of behavior in a supermarket or a shopping mall, but not at the U.S. Open. The time here is precious!
I made my way to the back courts and I was able to watch some great tennis between two guys who were ranked around 80-something in the world. I don’t remember their names offhand, but the match went four sets and the small crowd that gathered around over the last three hours was really getting into it.
When the match concluded, I clicked on my new U.S. Open iPhone app to see who was on this court next. It was a women’s doubles match between four women whose last names all end in “OVA.” I don’t think I even cleared the screen before I started to pack up my things. I want to sit through a women’s doubles match about as much as I want an axe to cave in the back of my skull. At that moment, I would have to immediately say goodbye to my time at court 12.
As I’m leaving my seat, I overhear a father talking to his son.
“Dad, I feel bad for that guy who just lost. He came all the way here from his country and he lost in the first round.”
The father replied with: “It’s okay, son. This is what he does for a living. It’s just like me and insurance. Plus, I wouldn’t feel too bad for him. After all, he is a multi-millionaire.”
I came close to saying something to this insurance guy, but I didn’t. I think if maybe I had another Honey Deuce in me, I probably would have. I just shook my head at his silly comment to his son and went about my business in trying to find another men’s match somewhere on the grounds.
People think that professional tennis players are rich athletes. Sure, you have guys like Roger Federer and Andre Agassi, both of which made tremendous amounts of money in their careers, not only from their results in tournaments, but also through countless endorsements. They are getting money from Nike, Wilson, Head, Canon, Rolex … and the list continues. They pretty much just sit back and watch the money roll in. I would say everyone in the top 25 has some type of deal where they are getting paid to use racquets or wear a certain brand of clothing. But as you get outside of the top 25, many players rely totally on what they make in tournaments as their total net income. It’s a miniscule amount for what they have accomplished in this sport.
Let’s take a guy like Daniel Kollerer. Daniel is a journeyman Austrian player who turned professional at the age of 18. He has been grinding it out on the Future and Challenger Circuits for years, which is tennis’ version of the minor leagues. Daniel has played in the French Open and Wimbledon. He’s now 26-years-old, and in this year’s past U.S. Open, he lost in the third round to Juan Martin del Potro in four very competitive sets. As we all know, del Potro went on to win the Open.
Because of Daniels’ great results, his ranking jumped up to 57th in the world. I repeat … he is the 57th best tennis player in the world. This is a mind-boggling accomplishment. How much do you think the 57th best tennis player walking this earth has made in his life? Around $5 million … $10 million … $20 million … $30 million?
As of two weeks ago, Daniel Kollerer’s career earnings for being a professional tennis player for the last eight years is $430,086. So the 57th best tennis player in the entire world has averaged making $53,760.75 annually since he was 18 years of age. That’s what assistant managers at Dunkin Donuts make. This is a guy who plays matches on television and in the Davis Cup for Team Austria. That is far from a millionaire or millionaire status.
I don’t know what Daniel’s racquet or clothing deal is, but I can guarantee you it’s not a lot … if barely anything at all. I knew a player who was once ranked around 100th in the world and played in the Davis Cup for his country. He had a clothing sponsorship with Nike. He got all the clothes and sneakers his heart desired. But unfortunately, Nike didn’t give him a penny to wear them. Sure, I bet Rafael Nadal gets millions a year to wear his Nike cut-off shirts … but not this guy. This guy just got an extra box load of Nike socks, and that’s it!
Okay, so a guy like Daniel Kollerer has made approximately $430,000 in his eight-year career so far. I’m sure he’ll add to it before he retires. But the thing that has to be remembered is that pro tennis players have absurd expenses to deal with as well. Tennis players spend pretty much their whole year traveling and flying, and I’m not just talking about $150 fares on little puddle jumpers to Pennsylvania. I’m talking about flying to Australia, then to Paris, then to Toronto, then to Belgium. Then you have to take into account all the hotel nights they rack up. Traveling the world the way they do is not a cheap task. Now, unless they are getting some help from their country’s tennis federation, these professional players are totally responsible for their own travel expenses. Then, if they have a coach, you can multiply those expenses by two. If a player does travel with a coach, he also gets a cut of the prize money earned. So, our player who is outside the top 25 has even a smaller amount of money he can take home.
Now if our friend, Daniel Kollerer should get injured, he will make no money at all. He is totally dependent on his tournament results and that’s it. If he doesn’t play, he doesn’t get paid! There are no contracts that are signed where he will get money, regardless if he plays or not.
The 57th ranked baseball player according to Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball Rankings is Victor Martinez. Victor was traded to the Boston Red Sox from the Cleveland Indians in July. This season, Victor made $5.6 million. Then in 2010, he will make $7 million. After that, he can renegotiate his contract with Boston, and I'm sure he’ll make even more money for seasons to come. Victor and Daniel might be very equivalent athletes, but the money Daniel makes compared to baseball players or any other professional athlete isn’t even in the same ballpark.
I have said it before and I will say it again … tennis is the hardest sport in the world to achieve success at. The money that these professionals earn makes it that much harder. So, next year if I bump into Daniel Kollerer walking the grounds at the U.S. Open, I will approach him and give him a pat on the shoulder. Then I will take him over to the bar and buy him a Grey Goose Honey Deuce. After all, it’s the official drink of the U.S. Open, and I’m sure he can use one!