Player Relief Fund Is A Start, But Is It Enough?

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

With pro tennis into its seventh week grounded due to the novel coronavirus pandemic – no tournaments being played, no prize money being won, no rankings points being earned – a glimmer of hope pushed its way through the clouds on Tuesday with the announcement that the sport’s major governing bodies will collaborate on a relief fund designed to help lower-ranked players.

The ATP, WTA, ITF and the four Grand Slams will bankroll the Player Relief Fund, which is expected to provide approximately $6 million earmarked to tennis pros struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic shutdown. The aid will be administered by the men’s and women’s pro tours, according to a joint statement that the ATP, WTA, ITF and four Grand Slams issued to announce the fund.

“It’s taken us a little bit of time, but the good news is that we’ll be addressing this in the right way,” said ITF President David Haggerty, quoted by The New York Times.

According to reporting by The New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey, $1 million contributions are expected to come from the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – the four Grand Slams. Also, both men’s and women’s tours – the ATP and WTA – are expected to contribute “close to” $1 million each. The ITF, which manages the Davis Cup and Fed Cup competitions, will contribute “out of its reserves,” according to Haggerty.

It is expected that the Player Relief Fund will primarily benefit both men’s and women’s players who are ranked outside of the Top 200 in the world in singles, who in best of times struggle to be able to meet their travel expenses and pay to have a full-time coach on the road. The Player Relief Fund is a start, but is it enough?

Further read: Djokovic outlines proposal for ATP Player Relief Fund

Murray speaks out about prize money inequity

Andy Murray, never one to shy away from sharing his opinion, has become the first of the so-called “high-profile” tennis players to suggest that winners’ prize money at majors may have to be cut as a means of helping lower-ranked players.

Murray, 32, a two-time Wimbledon champion and three-time Grand Slam titlist, is savvy enough to realize that tennis like most sports will take an economic punch in the gut from the coronavirus pandemic crisis. Recently, he told CNN, “Sometimes you see the prize money check for the winner of the Grand Slams is something like $4 million (£3.25 million, €3.68 million). Could that money be used better and spent elsewhere in the earlier rounds or the qualifying draws or maybe to grow some of the smaller events?”

Murray also told CNN: “I would imagine tennis would be one of the last sports to get back to normality because you’ve obviously got players and coaches and teams coming from all over the world into one area. I would be surprised if they were back playing sport by September time.”

USTA issues advice on how to play safely 

On Wednesday, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) issued safety guidelines for both players and tennis facilities on how to return to playing tennis safely when authorization is given by local authorities. These were developed by the USTA in conjunction with its Medical Advisor Group and its Industry partners. One thing’s certain with regards to proper social distancing: When playing doubles, NO Bryan Brothers chest bumps and no whispering to each other from a close distance to strategize.

A tweet from Down Under

Just when you thought Roger Federer was the only tennis player sending out thought provoking tweets, along comes Australia’s John Millman, who upset the Swiss maestro in the fourth round of the 2018 US Open for one of his biggest career victories. On Wednesday night (it was already Thursday in Australia), Millman wrote on Twitter: “Question Time: This one to the tennis fans. Why are there some fans out there who can’t appreciate the big three in their entirety? Instead they have their favorite and go ahead and attack the other two? I’m genuinely interest as to why this is the case?

Millman’s tweet generated a lot of responses, including one who asked him: “Question for yourself: in the aftermath of, say the US Open win over Federer, what was the reaction towards yourself?” To which Millman responded, “A lot of complimentary messages of support … and a lot of abusive ones. 😅”

Behind the Racquet with Tommy Roberto

Tommy Robredo, 37, has toiled on the ATP Tour since 1998. Currently ranked No. 214 in the world, the native of Hostalric, Spain, whose parents named him after The Who’s rock opera “Tommy,” began playing tennis at age 5. He speaks five languages fluently – Catalan, Spanish, French, English and Italian. Robredo has won 12 career ATP tour-level titles, but none since 2013, when he won twice – in Umag and Casablanca. He first broke into the Top 20 in 2013 and as recently as five years ago reached No. 17. Now, he mostly toils on the ATP Challenger Tour. This week, Robredo wrote a first-person essay for the Instagram series Behind the Racquet, in which he described how difficult it was to continue playing after his parents divorced and also what motivates him to keep playing at an age most of his contemporaries have already hung up their racquets.

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“My parents divorce was one of the toughest moments for me. I remember coming back from Australia in 2004 everything was over. My mom had to leave the house, which wasn’t easy to deal with. I was 21 years old and found myself in the middle of this all. I left home when I was 14 to move from a small town to Barcelona for better practice. For being away from them and leaving them, I felt really guilty. I had times where I would lie down thinking that if I was home, this wouldn’t happen. I remember that these were my feelings in the beginning, and I would cry because both my mother and father were not okay and I thought it was because of me. I tried to take care of them both in different ways. In the end I realized it was better for both of them now. It makes me smile knowing that my parents are okay now. When moments like this take place it is impossible to be 100% focused on tennis. I always say life is like a tree. As you grow and add ‘things’ to your life, the tree gets larger and larger but it also something that takes more of your time to care for. They can all be great things but they also require more thought. When I was 20 I just played tennis, didn’t think about anything else. I now wake up and worry about my family, friends, house, car, my business and of course my tennis. It adds up to a lot.⁣ ⁣ I will always remember playing in Paris, in Roland Garros, against Gael Monfils. It was a year and half after my leg injury. I didn’t know if I would ever play again, if my body had the ability to play at the top level again. I came back from two sets down for the third time in a row that tournament. This one was special. When I won the final point, all 10,000 people were standing and my skin was shaking. To feel all those people clapping, cheering and enjoying the effort I put in. These are the moments I play for, the one I will remember forever. There is no need for me to retire. Why do I have to listen to people? I don’t play for other people, I play for myself, I love this sport. The day I find more passion in something else is the day I stop.” @tommyrobredo⁣ ⁣ Go to behindtheracquet.com for extended stories, podcast and merch.

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What they’re writing

Simon Cambers, British freelance tennis journalist writing for ESPN.com, in “How the coronavirus pandemic forced sudden shutdown, then uncertainty for ATP, WTA tours,” interviewed reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep via email. She said, “So many people are worrying about Roland Garros being in September and the clashes with the calendar, but, to be honest, I think it will be great if we can even get in any tennis this year. September is still a long way away, and I think if we have tennis to play, we will all be celebrating.”

What they’re saying

• ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi, interviewed by ESPN.com, on whether pro tennis will return this year: “I think Its extremely difficult for tennis because these people travel from all over the globe, they are not locals, and it will be extremely challenging. We are exploring our options, including closed gates. But safety and health is the priority. If we can play with closed gates, guaranteeing everyone’s health and safety, then we will do it. If not, I think it’s best to probably wait.”

Alexander Zverev, 23, currently ranked No. 7, on why the coronavirus shutdown is benefiting older players: “Without this crisis, I think that the Next Gen would have taken over the Big 3. … The break is more of an advantage for the older ones. They have more experience and know exactly what they have to do. They will be fresher after the break.”

What they’re tweeting

ATP Tour / A conversation between Hall of Famer Chrissie Evert and Stan Wawrinka

Brad Gilbert, ESPN analyst and former player and coach / Comments on proposed ATP/WTA merger

Sloane Stephens, United States, ranked No. 37 / A conversation with No. 13 Madison Keys