Thanks in large part to the shining success of the Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, as well as Serena Williams’ stunning accomplishments, tennis has rarely been more popular. And that has been reflected in a significant growth in revenue for the sport’s authorities and a concurrent increase in prize money. For example, when Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003, he earned £575,000 in prize money for his efforts.
However, when Djokovic denied Federer in the 2019 final, the Serbian received a cheque for £2,350,000. That is a considerable increase. Indeed, life has never been better for those at the top of the game, with all of the Big Three having long since surpassed $100 million in prize money and Williams not far behind. But those rewards have not been shared equally, with most players ranked outside the top 100 struggling to break even, never mind make their fortune.
To their credit, it is not a problem the leading figures in the game are blind to. Federer and Djokovic have both used their position as the president of the ATP Player Council to push for increased distribution of prize money lower down the ranks. The US Open, meanwhile, pledged $6.6 million towards funding smaller tournaments for those players unable to participate in this year’s tournament due to the reduced size of the doubles draw and the cancellation of qualifying.
But in the midst of a global pandemic, which has halted all competitive tennis since late February and surely taken a disastrous toll on the finances of many players, one cannot help but feel that more could and should be done. Particularly due to the reticence of some players, notably including world #3 Dominic Thiem, to use some of their considerable wealth to help out their struggling colleagues. Fortunately, the authorities at Wimbledon have a more generous outlook.
Indeed, in what is a startling act of goodwill from a tournament cancelled this year for the first time since the Second World War, the All England Club have announced that they will distribute prize money to every player whose ranking would have gained entry into The Championships, either by direct acceptance into the main draw or into the qualifying. That will see payments made to 620 players and will surely be a significant relief to many.
The 224 players who would have played in the qualifying will each receive £12,500 whilst those who would have qualified directly for the main draw will receive £25,000. Doubles players whose ranking would have earned them a place in the main draw will each receive £6,250. 16 players who were due to play in the Wheelchair events will receive £6,000 and the four players who would have competed in the Quad Wheelchair events will receive £5,000.
It should be noted that the All England Club was able to make this distribution due to their insurance covering the tournament’s cancellation due to a pandemic, giving them more financial flexibility than most events. But the All England Club still deserve real credit for using that financial security to help the players who make their tournament possible. They also announced that they will be making payments, in co-operation with the LTA, to the officials who would have worked at the Championships.
One does suspect that the distribution might perhaps have been weighted more heavily towards lower-ranked players, who have suffered greater financial hardship than those nearer the top of the game. But that is a small criticism weighed against an act of generosity that stands to make a real difference in an exceedingly difficult time for many. It should never be forgotten that the true beauty of sport lies in its ability to bring people together through shared experience.
Those at Wimbledon have remembered exactly that. Now it is to be hoped that the rest of the tennis world will follow their example.