Serena Williams' coach exposes 'revolting' state of tennis amid crisis

Patrick Mouratoglou and Serena Williams, pictured here at the Australian Open in January.
Patrick Mouratoglou and Serena Williams at the Australian Open in January. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou has penned an open letter to the tennis community, slamming the ‘revolting’ state of the game amid the coronavirus crisis.

While top players have been donating to relief efforts and post cooking and workout videos online, lower level professionals are counting the cost of the tennis shutdown with some fearing they will be unable to put food on the table if it lasts much longer.

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Mouratoglou says it exposes the ‘dysfunctional’ state of the game and changes need to be made sooner rather than later.

“Players ranked outside the top 100 are barely breaking even and most of them are forced to fund their careers to keep playing professionally. Their lives are a financial struggle,” the Frenchman wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Unlike basketball or football players, tennis players aren’t covered by fixed annual salaries. They’re independent contractors.

“They’re paying for their travels. They’re paying fixed salaries to their coaching staff, while their own salaries depend on the number of matches they win.

“I find it revolting that the 100th-best player of one of the most popular sports in the world – followed by an estimated one billion fans – is barely able to make a living out of it.”

Mouratoglou pointed to recent comments from former player Tim Mayotte and current World No. 225 Noah Rubin to highlight how tennis has created an uneven playing field.

“What happens when players are forced out of work for an undefined period of time? Well, they don’t get paid,” Mouratoglou wrote.

“Some of them are giving up on their dreams and are calling it a career.

“It’s been the case for too long. Although we have done away with the long-established male supremacy in the financial field, tennis retains one of the most extreme levels of inequality in any sport.

“The thing is, tennis crucially needs them to survive. Tennis can’t live only off its elites. The tours would atrophy.

“Because the tour is on pause for the reasons we all know, these players do not get any income, and unlike most top-100 players, they do not have any money on the side or sponsorship deals to live on.

“It is time to think about those players and help them, first in the immediate future, then in the long-term.”

Mouratoglou was widely praised for his comments.

Top players donate while others struggle to get by

Novak Djokovic last week pledged one million euros ($AU1.98m) to help buy medical equipment in his native Serbia, while Rafa Nadal has called on fellow Spanish athletes to help raise 11 million euros ($19.8m) to fight the pandemic.

Roger Federer - the other member of the Big Three of men's tennis - contributed one million Swiss Francs (A$1.7 m) to help vulnerable families in his native Switzerland.

By contrast, Georgia's Sofia Shapatava, the world's 375th ranked women's singles player, has started a petition seeking assistance from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for lower-level professionals.

“Not many will be able to support their everyday life and then come back to playing after three months without competition,” the 31-year-old said in her online petition, which has more than 1,350 signatures.

The men's ATP Tour and the WTA, which runs the women's circuit, suspended all tournaments until early June after countries started locking down their borders to contain the spread of the flu-like virus.

Sofia Shapatava, pictured here in action at the Bogota Open in 2014.
Sofia Shapatava in action at the Bogota Open in 2014. (Photo by Gal Schweizer/LatinContent via Getty Images)

In recent weeks, players who would usually be jetting around the world to tournaments have flooded social media with videos of their take on the toilet roll challenge, or their new home workout routines, cooking and dancing skills.

While tennis is a lucrative sport for those at the top - the 2020 Australian Open singles champions each took home AU$4.12 million - those in the lower echelons often struggle to make ends meet.

A 2018 International Review Panel report commissioned to address betting and integrity issues said that players in the lowest tiers were susceptible to corruption because of the difficulty in making a living.

Only 250-350 players, the report said, earned enough to break even.

Tennis governing bodies have over the last few years attempted to improve the pay and conditions for a deeper pool of international players but it has not proved enough for those who depend solely on winnings.

The WTA and ATP told Reuters they were working behind the scenes to help the players. The ITF did not respond to request for comment.

with agencies