Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal have always been incredible with charities. They along with so many other players like Nick Kyrgios, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Serena Williams have been great benefactors but when the likes of the “Big 3” talk the attention to a cause goes to another level.
They have provided millions through their foundations to help the disadvantaged and underprivileged and over the last couple of months, since COVID-19 really took hold, they have made further generous donations – seven figure sums of money.
They have obviously never had to look at such a situation before, to see people they are passing in the locker-room or seeing in player lounges being placed in dire straits. The likes of Roger, Rafa and Nole have not had to consider fellow athletes in their own sport which has given them so much, going without prizemoney and a living.
Tennis, like any professional sport, is a competitive business on and off the court and it is each person for themselves. It’s not a charity. Right?
Coronavirus has guided the three of them to now see the need to look inside their own backyard. The cliché of “charity begins at home” is right in their faces and they are seeing firsthand how the suspension of world tennis has put so many lives on hold in the sport.
With no tournaments happening, no money is coming in for hundreds of tennis players on the world tour. Players who don’t have the luxury of sponsorships to help them along, players who are trying desperately to make a path for themselves are struggling to survive. They were all but forgotten.
Sofia Shapatava a player from Georgia ranked 375 petitioned the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for assistance for the low ranked players. I recently pointed this out. It looks like something is being done via other means.
Now the Big 3 have come up with a plan as Mr. Djokovic who is President of the ATP Player Council explained. They had a detailed conversation about how to tackle the issue and how all players in the top 100 singles and top 20 in doubles can contribute and help the lower ranked players who are struggling the most.
“The majority of the players who are ranked between 200, 250 in the world, and the 700th or 1,000th do not have federation support, do not have sponsors. They are completely independent and left alone,” Mr. Djokovic said. “Guys who are ranked between 200-250, especially to 700 … are thinking of leaving tennis right now.”
The plan is that the players depending on their ranking contribute to a fund on a sliding scale along with the ATP and the four majors. The WTA needs to strongly get involved in this which to this point appears to have been quiet.
“It looks, hopefully, that there will be something between $4.5 million and $7 million that is going to be distributed,” he said and added that it would be up to the ATP to do the distribution.
The world No.1 went on to say that the funds could come from prizemoney distribution at the ATP Finals but if there is no more tennis to be played in 2020 then funds would come from the Australian Open prizemoney.
He rightly said: “These guys are. We need to show them they still can rely on support of the top guys.”
However, let’s take a step back for a minute. The issue of lower ranked players and prizemoney has been around a long time and not enough has been done about it. Every time there is an increase in prizemoney levels it is the latter rounds of a tournament that gains the biggest percentage.
Not for a minute is that wrong as those are the players who have garnered the greatest success at an event and they should be rewarded with the most BUT, and this is the point, the differential between the business end of a tournament and the earlier rounds is too great. There is a variation of what the percentages are depending on the level of the tournament, but that difference needs to be brought more into line and made more realistic.
No one owes the next one a living but the consideration of players in qualifying and early rounds must be looked at strongly. Think of the young ones, the next wave of potential stars who could be in a make or break situation – that’s just the start.
The top guys have made almost passing mention of this in the past, now is their opportunity to do something about it. The Player Council’s of the two tours must act to protect, as Novak said, “the grassroots of tennis. The future of tennis”. This is the time to do it.