© Ella Ling

New York City

The rough side of life in professional tennis


It’s never vulgar to talk about money at Flushing Meadows; it’s part of the show, with the spectators often invited to applaud the size of the cheque presented to the champion. With many in the men’s locker-room complaining of being underpaid, here are three players who have experienced the rough side of life as a professional tennis player.

Ivan Dodig, Andy Murray’s second-round opponent at the US Open,¬†once slept rough under a bridge because he could not afford a hotel room. He has also slept on benches at airports and train stations. “I was taking care of every Euro. I had many tough situations in tournaments having to play without money and many times without anywhere to sleep,” Dodig has recalled.

Sam Groth’s “bloated credit card bill”. The other day, Groth wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald about the financial realities of life on the tour: “I’m a professional tennis player. I live in Melbourne and my world ranking is 256. I returned home yesterday from the US Open, where I was the first alternate for the qualifying draw. Had I made it, my prize-money would have covered my flights, and maybe a couple of nights in the hotel. Instead, I have just added another hefty amount to my bloated credit card bill. You share rooms (or if you’re lucky, stay with a host family), take a round-about flight because it’s cheaper, and eat where you can – not ideal when it comes to maximising performance, but what you need to do to survive. The life of a tennis player outside the world’s top 100 is tough.”¬†

For years, Dustin Brown ate and slept in his VW camper van as he travelled to small tournaments across Europe. The Jamaican is the closest that men’s tennis will get to a hippie-wanderer in a Volkswagen camper, a dude with a van, some rackets, some open road, and the odd cameo on the biggest stages. Brown was not receiving much help from the Jamaican tennis federation, and his mother Inge reportedly said it was when she was sitting on a beach, drinking a beer, and staring out into the ocean, that she thought of buying him the vehicle. “Maybe god told me a van would be the answer for everything. It was.”

  • Dennis

    Perhaps at this stage a guy like Groth needs to face reality and realize he will never make a solid living from tennis. When you’re 25 and have career ATP earnings under $50k and are merely first alternate for qualifying, perhaps it’s time to get a real job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rob.cross.127 Rob Cross

    Interesting article. I’ve been watching some tournaments that are basically just below futures level. Some of these guys have serves that seem to be 130 mph and nice strokes, but I almost feel sorry for most of them as they are just good enough to see the money, but not really make any for themselves.