Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic of Serbia serves against Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands in the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on March 1, 2023. The World No. 1 says the Professional Tennis Players Association aims to help the lower-ranked player earn a living from the sport. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: A professional tennis player is a millionaire. That’s if you ranked in the top 100 or so. Prize money in each ATP or WTA tournament runs into millions of dollars. Take the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, for example. The total prize money is close to $3 million, which means the winner walks away with more than $500,000. The first-round loser gets a cheque for a little more than $20,000.

So tennis sure is a lucrative game. That’s if you reach the upper echelons of the sport. Prize money is just a small percentage of the earnings if you consider the numerous endorsement deals. So the actual net worth of a player is much higher: the net worth of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is $230 million in 2023.

Not all tennis players are rich. Only the cream of tennis players are millionaires who can afford personal coaches, trainers, physios and even psychologists. That happens in the rarified atmosphere of the tennis elite while others down the rung foot their bills and travel without coaches.

We have to do a better job, we have to create a better system for them [lower-ranked players] to make a living, at least break even.

- Novak Djokovic, World No. 1 tennis player from Serbia

Djokovic wants to change all that. “We are the third or fourth most globally watched sports. [About] 1.3 billion people watch it, yet we can’t have [only] more than 400 people living from this sport, both men and women. I think we have to put that in our mind and really think about whether this sport is doing great or not,” the Serbian said, alluding to the imbalance. He was speaking at the press conference on Wednesday after beating Dutchman Tallon Greikspoor to enter the quarterfinals of the Dubai ATP event.

“The top of the game is doing well, of course. Can’t complain for myself. But I’m speaking on behalf of all the lower-ranked players who struggle to make a living. I think this is the main goal [to help them],” said Djokovic, winner of a record 22 Grand Slam titles.

The Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), founded by players Vasek Pospisil and Djokovic in 2019, aims to tackle the problems of players. That’s not confined to the fair distribution of wealth in tennis. Its  aims are to “protect, respect and guarantee the fundamental rights of players”. That includes welfare measures like pension and access to mental health resources.

“For me, the PTPA’s existence, [the] most important purpose, is to serve players across the board. We struggled, unfortunately, [in the] last few decades with the division between ITF, ATP. So ATP only has a reach as much, then after that is ITF,” Djokovic said, referring to the limitation of the tennis bodies.

Those [lower-ranked players] are the majority...if you’re 200 in the world, you can’t travel with a coach. You have to travel by yourself. This is not good enough.

- Novak Djokovic, World No. 1 tennis player from Serbia

“We have thousands, tens of thousands of players that are competing around the world. Unfortunately, only 400 to 500, both men and women, singles, doubles, [and] mixed, live from this sport. That’s something that I feel like not many people want to talk about, but I feel like it’s super important to always remind ourselves, the Serbian said, calling for the need to take care of lower-ranked players.

“Those [lower-ranked players] are the majority. We are the minority. We are whatever, 100, 150 players in the world, men’s side, women’s side, all in all. You have tens of thousands of other players who say, ‘Hear us out.’

“We have to do a better job; we have to create a better system for them to make a living, at least break even. I think if you’re 200 in the world, you can’t travel with a coach. You have to travel by yourself. This is not good enough,” Djokovic said.

read more

That’s where the PTPA comes in. “PTPA is a player-only organisation, but I think it should be global for everyone. I’ve been trying to call on all the governing bodies and organisations in our sport to get together and collectively figure this out. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

“Hopefully, it will because divisions are definitely not something that PTPA stands for. We actually want to unite; we want to represent more the voices of the players that are normally not heard, that you normally don’t get a chance to speak to them or see them,” the PTPA founder said.