Lower rung gets a helping hand

Written by Shahid Judge
| Mumbai |

Published: April 23, 2020 1:54:54 am

India’s Rutuja Bhosale, ranked 443 in the world, could benefit from the relief fund being worked out by the sport’s governing bodies.

The global lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic has kept tennis players, particularly the lower-ranked ones, on tenterhooks. The tour – essentially, their livelihood – has been suspended since March, and updates from the world of tennis have been all about the cancellation of the tournament after tournament.

Late night on Tuesday, however, there was finally one piece of news that sent a wave of optimism among the lower-ranked players. The seven governing bodies of the sport – the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the four Grand Slams – have decided to set up a fund to financially assist players during this period.

“Tennis’ seven international governing bodies are working together to create a Player Relief Programme to provide assistance to the players who are particularly affected during the COVID-19 crisis. These discussions are progressing well and details are being finalised,” read a letter sent to the players by the ITF.

The details of the financial aid are yet to be finalised, but based on a report by The New York Times, a pool of over US$6 million is expected to be formed by the governing bodies. “This is going to be very helpful for the lower-ranked players,” says world no. 443 Rutuja Bhosale. “At the moment we are all at home, so the expenses aren’t as much because we are not travelling, but you still need to pay for essentials. And there is no income. Basically, we’ve all been just surviving right now. So, this will definitely help.”

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

In addition to the sum proposed by the governing bodies, the ATP Players’ Council, headed by world no. 1 Novak Djokovic and also including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, has proposed further funds to be contributed by players ranked in the top 100 in singles and the top 20 in doubles, based on their rankings. The 20 doubles players are to contribute US$ 5,000 each, the top five in singles are to chip in with US$ 30,000 each, ranks 6-10 with US$ 20,000, 11-20 with US$ 15,000, 21-50 with US$ 10,000 and 51 to 100 with US$ 5000. All donations to this fund are voluntary, and should all players accept the proposal, it would amount to US$ 1,050,000.

Furthermore, Djokovic is said to be pushing for support to be given to players ranked 250 to 700, with a sum of US$ 10,000 each.
“Outside of 250 is where the real financial struggle is,” Djokovic said in a message to a group of players, according to the NYT.

“We feel that we all need to get together and help these guys out. Many of them are thinking to leave pro tennis because they just can’t survive financially. Unfortunately, there is a very large amount of players in the group between 250 and 700 that is not supported by federations or don’t have sponsors.”

While the news has been well received, there is concern that some of the players overlooked for this fund may struggle once the tour restarts. “This is definitely helpful and really something that will uplift players who are suffering, but I hope things are made fair to a greater set of players,” says 26-year-old Sidharth Rawat, ranked 438. “At the moment the help will go for 250 to 700, but the person ranked 249 may be struggling just as badly. I’d say the players ranked 200 and above struggle because the ones higher than that mark can earn some money by just making it to the Grand Slam qualifiers.”

There’s been a lot of speculation that lower-ranked players are struggling to survive the lockdown and have decided to move on from the sport. Since the tour was suspended in March and till July 13 at least, there has been a sum of approximately US$ 56,834,845 on the men’s circuit, and US$ 34,224,127 on the WTA tour that could have been earned by players in prize money. These events, however, are only for higher-ranked players. The ones who play in the lower tiers are playing for much smaller prize money, which means their savings are just as low.

“If it weren’t for my parents, I’d be out (financially) by now. I’m blessed to have parents to support me, but I can’t do this forever,” says world no. 655 Arjun Kadhe, who at 26, has earned a total of US$ 94,117 in prize money so far. The thought of financial aid coming in, though, has kept him upbeat.

“That money can be used to invest in tennis, be it training or travel. It’ll help getting things started again.”

As of now, it’s not confirmed who will be getting how much. But for the players, just the beginning of the process gives them hope.

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