Our Serve: A Tennis Balancing Act
One by one, all four Grand Slam tournaments have now dug deep and managed to boost the prize money they’re offering pro players, appeasing the pro tours, which had been clamoring for more money. In some corners, that “b” word — “boycott” — had even been mentioned if prize money didn’t increase at the Slams.
If more money goes to early round losers and to doubles players, helping them to offset their costs to play on the tour, then I’m all for it. Up-and-coming pros can definitely use help to play tournaments and get coaching. And doubles is too often given short shrift at the pro level, which means it doesn’t have the exposure it should, and that affects the recreational level — doubles play is hugely important to the growth of the recreational game.
But I’m not jazzed about offering even more bucks to the top players for winning a Grand Slam event. Last year, Roger Federer and Serena Williams each earned $1.75 million for their Wimbledon singles titles. This year, Wimbledon is boosting the top singles prizes to $2.4 million. As one who sees how tennis at the recreational level often struggles to get funds, is that sort of an increase for the top players truly helping to grow this game? Think of what could be done at the grassroots with that extra $1.3 million.
For the 2013 US Open, the USTA is increasing total prize money by $8.1 million (32 percent over last year) to $33.6 million overall. In this endless loop, Wimbledon, of course, needed to beat that, so it’s now offering $34.4 million overall for this year’s tournament (a 40 percent increase). And the US Open says it has committed to increasing prize money to at least $50 million by 2017, which is a 96 percent increase from 2012 to 2017.
I get that the money the Grand Slams take in supports the recreational game in their respective countries. I completely understand that the US Open is the engine that drives community tennis in this country, and I applaud and support the USTA for that.
But I worry this continuing escalation in prize money will affect how much we have to spend delivering tennis at the community level. I worry that, in efforts to make good on future commitments to paying even more money to pro players, community tennis budgets, programs and staff may be affected.
Will the top pros stop playing the Grand Slams if they only win $2 million, vs. $2.5 million? Think what an extra million dollars could do if spread around at the community level. How many districts, CTAs, park and recs, school programs, youth development initiatives, and 10 and Under Tennis programs could use even a fraction of that money to help grow this sport, to help pay local teaching pros to deliver tennis, to help educate coaches and tennis teachers, to help build for the future?
The USTA’s mission “to promote and develop the growth of tennis” clearly includes making sure the US Open is the best it can be, as a premier showcase for this sport. But let’s make sure this prize money boom for the pros doesn’t lead to a bust for recreational tennis.
Peter Francesconi, Editorial Director
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About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.