By Martin Redlicki
May 11, 2020
Disclaimer: The following piece was written by a guest writer. This writer‘s views do not necessarily align with ours at MyTennisHQ.
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across virtually all facets of life around the entire planet. Joblessness is at an all time high, and among those out of work are aspiring professional tennis players. Within the last couple of weeks, the ATP and the ITF, two of the sports main governing bodies, proposed a somewhat controversial plan to create a player relief fund. The reason for the controversy is that top players are being asked to take on the financial responsibility of the relief fund, with increased contribution for higher ranked players. The goal of the player relief fund is to financially assist players ranked between 250-700, a range deemed by the governing bodies and top players as “the future of the sport”, and players that make the majority of their income by playing in professional tennis tournaments. Several top players have commented on the player relief fund, with some players showing support and others strongly condemning the idea. I personally believe that the player relief fund is a good idea to financially assist the aspiring pros that are looking to climb the rankings, with the goals and dreams of making it to the top, like the players they are currently looking up to.
With the target ranking range of the fund being 250-700, it is mainly aimed at helping players that have shown they have what it takes to climb the rankings and eventually make it to the grand slam level, but have not had the required amount of time and/or professional playing experience to make it all the way there. These players, such as myself, mainly compete in the “Futures” and “Challenger” levels of the sport, comparable to baseball’s minor leagues. By reaching a ranking of at least 700 in the world, a player essentially proves that he has the ability to consistently win matches at the entry level of the sport, and has the ability to progress to the higher levels of the sport. However, the current world climate has completely halted the players’ ability to earn ranking points and an income, essentially leaving them completely stagnant with no possibility to progress.
The goal of the player relief fund is to provide these distinguished players a monetary grant of $10,000 each, which is intended to help them survive these difficult times, as well as to be able to continue their training and pursuit of making it to the top of the game. Unfortunately at the entry levels of the sport, players do not earn enough money to put away and save. Most of their income gets funneled back into their careers, an investment in order to progress forward. With no way of making money from tournaments, many players will be forced to quit the sport to which they’ve devoted their entire lives, simply because they cannot afford to pursue their career. The money from the player grant would help players keep their lives and careers on track, and could help many players continue playing the sport as opposed to being forced to quit. Nick Kyrgios, a supporter of the player relief fund, understands the importance of supporting lower ranked players to help continue the sport grow and prosper, and to create a pathway for future generations of players.
One of the main opponents of the player relief fund is Dominic Theim, currently ranked number 3 in the world, and is widely regarded as one of the hardest working players on tour. Through his hard work, he was able to elevate his ranking from 950 in the world when he played in his first professional event in 2010, all the way to where he currently sits as world number 3. His ranking climb followed a relatively standard path for players that end up breaking through to the top of the game, with his year end 2010 ranking being 921, his year end 2011 ranking being 638, his year end 2012 ranking being 309, before his year end 2013 ranking being 139. He then proceeded to break the top 100 in the rankings the first month of 2014.
A couple of weeks ago, Thiem made some inflammatory remarks towards the lower ranked players of the sport in response to supporting the player relief fund for those players, saying that, “none of them have to fight for their lives… many of them are quite unprofessional.” Personally, I couldn’t disagree more with the statement he made, as it is for the most part simply not true. He himself is an excellent example. Based on his ranking progression outlined above, it took Thiem a full 2 years on tour before his ranking resembled that of being among the game’s most elite. In those two years, he gained the experience that is so often needed to break through in tennis. What he is failing to see is that it is not the lack of professionalism that is holding lower ranked players back, but the impact that COVID-19 is having on the world and the lack of opportunity that players have to earn ranking points and income. Had this global pandemic happened in 2012 when he was building his ranking, he would have been the exact player that he is currently ridiculing and dismissing.
Thiem is the perfect example of why the player relief fund is so important for the growing of the sport. Had he been sidelined by a global pandemic in his ascent of the rankings and never had the opportunity to break through, there is a chance that he could have been forced to quit the game he loves due to intense financial pressures like so many players are currently facing. I believe that most, if not all of the players in the target ranking for the relief fund have the potential to be just like Thiem and need to be given the opportunity to do so. Tennis is an individual sport, and players oftentimes do not have major organizations or sponsors backing them at the early stages of their careers. In contrast, the top players often make substantial money from both their sponsors and on court performance. I think it’s important that the top players in the game take initiative to give tennis, a sport that has given them so much, the opportunity to thrive for generations to come.
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Martin Redlicki started playing professionally after finishing his career at UCLA in 2018. He is currently ranked ATP #503 in singles and #200 in doubles. Find him on instagram @martinredlicki.