Adjusted for inflation, the ATP’s current elite are the best paid ever - UBITENNIS
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Adjusted for inflation, the ATP’s current elite are the best paid ever

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Prize money in men’s professional tennis in recent years has become the subject of increased attention. Part of the reason has simply been the size of the rewards on offer: Djokovic earned USD 21.6m in 2015 alone; a recent article for Forbes magazine described the race to USD 100m in career prize money between Federer and Djokovic. These are or will be records. But the objective of this article is to compare these achievements with the prize money earned by previous generations.  

Comparison of prize money earnings must take into account the strong growth in prize money in the last 5 to 10 years, and factor in how inflation distorts earnings over long periods, i.e. $100,000 earned in 1990 is worth far more today. Unfortunately, we must also recognise that 1985 is the first year for which season-by-season prize money totals are available on the ATP website, thus at this stage ruling out comparison with the era of McEnroe, Connors and Borg.

So, here’s what I have done. Prize money totals have been retrieved for each player and for each season since 1985; and then adjusted for inflation so that all totals are expressed in today’s prices (also known as 2015 dollars). The result is that for each player, there is now both a nominal total (the actual amount earned by the player), and an inflation-adjusted total. The table below sets out the top 20 highest earners on the ATP tour between 1985 and 2015, according to both nominal values and inflation-adjusted values. Note that for the purposes of like-for-like comparison, the values below are for singles prize money only and do not include any doubles prize money. Analysis below.

Top 20 earners on the ATP Tour 1985-2015; nominal values and inflation-adjusted values; singles prize money only

Career earnings table post

So what does the table above tell us?

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have demonstrated unprecedented dominance, winning 41 out of the last 50 slams. No other era comes close: Agassi and Sampras shared 22 slams, as did Becker, Edberg and Lendl. Even Borg, McEnroe and Connors won only a total of 26 slams. The slams pay the most prize money; that’s part of why they lead the table.

But the lead of the Big 3 in the prize money table is also evidence of recent prize money increases. Djokovic has won 10 slam titles, only 2 more than Agassi, yet his career earnings even now are double Agassi’s; and point to the strong increase in grand slam prize money over the last 5 years – a grand slam winner can expect to earn 52% more in 2015 compared to 2011 (adjusted for inflation). Nadal and Sampras have won the same number of slams (14) yet Nadal has comfortably out-earned the American. Sampras’s first US Open title in 1990 came with prize money of USD 350,000, which today would be worth about USD 650,000. Compare this to Nadal’s US Open win in 2013 which was worth over USD 2.6m in today’s money. Sampras’s own prize money total contains its own distortion – Grand Slam Cup earnings – which is discussed below. Notice the effect of prize money increases when, despite a relatively short career – not at the top of men’s tennis but near the top of men’s tennis – Wawrinka manages to break the top 20 inflation-adjusted list.

Adjusting for inflation put earnings in the appropriate context. The ATP should include this in player biographies and relevant statistics-based news articles.

Exhibit A: the nominal total of USD 43m posted by Pete Sampras, a 14-time grand slam winner, will inevitably be passed at some point by Andy Murray, currently on USD 42m, and the winner of only two grand slam tournaments. However, the effect of inflation is strong. Sampras won his prize money predominantly in the 1990s and accordingly his inflation-adjusted total is over USD 20m more than Murray’s.

Exhibit B: the all-time career prize money totals you see on the ATP website and on Wikipedia are based on nominal values only. Accordingly, you can see that six top 10 players from 2015 appear in the nominal values prize money top 10; this is despite two of them, Berdych and Ferrer, never having won a grand slam tournament. The inflation-adjusted top 10 on the other hand contains almost all multiple slam winners. Grand slams are the game’s currency in every sense.

Let’s also deal with the cosmetics. Adjusting for inflation, Roger Federer has already and substantially surpassed the USD 100m mark in prize money. If we’re serious about putting information into the appropriate context, then the “race” to USD 100m was won by Federer back in 2014. (For a season-by-season breakdown of prize money by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, please see here.)

Analysis by season

Top 20 earners on the ATP Tour 1985-2015 by season; nominal values and inflation-adjusted values; singles prize money only

Season earnings table post

Whether you adjust for inflation or not, it is the more recent seasons that feature in the top 20. In the nominal values table, there is only one season further back than the last 10 years (Sampras 1997), and there are 12 seasons within the last five years (2011-2015).

The Grand Slam Cup anomaly. Even adjusting for inflation, only three seasons come from the 1990s (Sampras 1994, 1995, and 1997). However, rather than an unequivocal nod to the greatness of Sampras, these seasons suffer from their own distortion. Between 1990 and 1997 a season-ending tournament, the Grand Slam Cup, was played in Munich. It was distinguishable for 2 reasons: firstly that it was an ITF/Grand Slam-sanctioned tournament not initially recognised by the ATP (which held a separate World Tour Finals event); and secondly for its record-busting prize money. In most years, the winner would receive USD 2 million. Adjusting for inflation, such a sum would be USD 3.7m today and higher than any tournament cheque last year. Accordingly, this 8-year tournament (which has now amalgamated with the ATP’s event to form the World Tour Finals) is a prize money anomaly. Sampras won the Grand Slam Cup in 1997 (and reached the latter stages in 1994 and 1995).

2000-2003: the Interregnum. But there is some analytical value to the Grand Slam Cup. Without this tournament, no season earlier than 2004 would feature in the top 20. And it highlights the long interregnum between the Sampras / Agassi era and the Federer / Nadal era. In all four years between 2000 and 2003 inclusive there were four different slam winners. Since then, only in 2012 and 2014 did the slams have 4 different winners. With no player dominating between 2000 and 2003, and yet to benefit from large prize money increases and with no Grand Slam Cup to increase earnings, it is no surprise that these seasons are not represented in the inflation-adjusted top 20.

Calculating Inflation-adjusted earnings allows us to compare like with like, adding more to our understanding of the historical context of tennis. The analysis above is just the most recent part of work into inflation-adjusted earnings (e.g here). More to come in due course.

 

****

* In 1985 and in the following years, Ivan Lendl earned sufficient prize money to make the inflation-adjusted top 20. However, this table also includes a conservative estimate of his inflation-adjusted earnings from his early career up until 1984. This is likely to underestimate his total inflation-adjusted earnings hence the asterisk (*) applied. In the absence of data published by the ATP, research is ongoing to create a robust methodology to estimate the inflation-adjusted earnings of the likes of Borg, McEnroe and Connors.

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Alexander Zverev: “My coach won’t stop crying until next year”

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Zverev has been very consistent during the Masters 1000 season winning the third title of his career in the series at the Madrid Mutua Open in the Caja Magica one year after his wins in Rome and Toronto. He also lost two Masters 1000 finals in Miami to John Isner and in Rome to Rafa Nadal. During the 2018 season Zverev also won two more tournaments at ATP 250 level in Munich and Washington.

During an interview with the BBC Zverev thanked all the people who are working with him and helped him win at the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London.

“My dad has been coaching me for most of my life. I think he is the best tennis coach. He won’t stop crying until next year probably but that’s fine. He also probably doesn’t understand what I am saying but it’s fine. Thanks to Ivan Lendl for joining the team. I think it’s working out all right for now. Hopefully it stays like that. Nobody can probably see it but I have actually put on muscle. I was skinnier before than I am now”, said Zverev.

Zverev congratulated with Novak Djokovic and talked about his relationship to the Serbian world number 1 player, who qualified for the final without dropping a set during the whole week.

I really can’t believe it. It’s the biggest title I have ever won. Firstly I want to congratulate Novak and we may never have seen the tennis he has played in the last few months before. He barely lost a match but thankfully he did me to. We had many talks on life, not only about tennis, but al different types of subjects. Huge congratulations to Djokovic’s team. Finishing as world number one after having surgery, I don’t know if it has been done before. You are one of the best teams on tour, so good luck for next year”, said Zverev.

 

 

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Mike Bryan and Jack Sock lift their third doubles title as a team in 2018 at the Nitto ATP Finals in London

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Mike Bryan and Jack Sock came back from one set down to edge Frenchmen Pierre Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7 6-1 13-11 in just over 90 minutes after a dramatic tie-break in the doubles final at the Nitto ATP Finals in a packed O2 Arena in London. They have clinched their third doubles title in their eighth together as a team.

The US team crowned an impressive season adding the ATP Finals title to the wins achieved at Wimbledon and at the US Open. They became the first doubles team to win these two Grand Slam titles since Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge.

Bryan and Sock converted three of their ten break points and saved six of the eight chances they faced.

The opening set featured six deuce deciding points in twelve points went on serve until the seventh game when Mahut earned the first break to take a 4-3 lead with a lob. Bryan and Sock broke straight back in the eighth game on their fifth break point after a double fault from Mahut.

Herbert and Mahut broke serve again in the 11th game to take the 6-5 edge before fending off four break points in row to seal the first set on the deciding point.

Bryan and Sock went up a double break in the second and sixth games to cruise through to winning the second set 6-1 forcing the match to the Tie-Break.

After a series of mini-breaks Herbert and Mahut fended off three match points in the tie-break at 9-6 to draw level to 9-9 keeping their chance alive. The 2018 Rotterdam and French Open champions earned their own match point at 11-10. Sock and Bryan reeled off three points to save the match point and clinch the tie-break 13-11 on their sixth match point after 1 hour and 31 minutes, when Herbert made a double fault.

Forty-year-old Bryan won his fifth doubles title at the ATP Finals in his career after the four previous wins in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2014 achieved together with his twin brother Bob Bryan. He has become the sixth player in history to win multiple year end titles with at least 2 different partners. Only John McEnroe and Peter Fleming won more doubles titles in the history of this event with their seven consecutive triumphs from 1978 to 1984 at the Madison Square in New York.

Sock is the first player to reach the year-end final in doubles and semifinals in singles (2017) since McEnroe back in 1984. He has also become the oldest champion in the ATP Finals history. Bryan and Sock began their partnership in another London venue last June. Bryan has lifted his 121st title in his legendary career. His impressive collection includes 18 Grand Slam doubles titles and the Olympic doubles gold medal in London 2012.

They were presented with the title by ATP Executive Chairman Chris Kermode and Nitto President Hideo Takasaki.

Mahut and Herbert were bidding to be the first French champions since 2005. The French team ended the season with a win-loss record of 23-11.

“This is how you want to start a partnership and end one. To win here is just an epic experience. To finish a great year off  the right way, winning here against some of the best teams in the world. The way we did, it came down to the wire. It was pretty exciting. I have real memories with Jack. We are closing the book on our partnership because Bob is coming back.We are always going to be great friends and hang out in the off season. We are going to spend our off-season training together”, said Mike Bryan. 

 

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‘If You Win a Grand Slam, It’s A Good Season’ – Roger Federer On 2018 And His Off-Season Goals

The Swiss player has named two improvements he would like to make to his game ahead of the next season.

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20-time grand slam champion Roger Federer has said that he is contempt with his performance this year despite experiencing a slight dip in form during the second half.

The 37-year-old officially ended his season on Saturday after bowing out in straight sets to Alexander Zverev at the ATP Finals in London. This year the Swiss player has won four titles on the tour, including the Australian Open in January. Overall, he has achieved a win-loss record of 48-10.

“(Pete) Sampras once upon a time said, ‘If you win a slam, it’s a good season.’” Reflected Federer, who held the world No.1 ranking for a total of eight weeks during 2018.
“So started great. I played super well in Australia again. So obviously I can’t wait to go back there in a couple of months.”

Despite the success, he has also suffered his share of disappointment. Prior to his last tournament of the year, Federer had only won two out of six matches against top 10 players. He also suffered a surprise loss to Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon before falling in the fourth round at the US Open. Making it the first time he has only reached one grand slam semi-final out of four since 2013.

“The second half of the season could have been better maybe.” Admitted Federer. “I also have high hopes to always do well. So I’m happy I gave myself opportunities again in that second half of the season.”
“I maybe lost a couple too close matches that could have changed things around for me a little bit.” He added.

Work to be done in the off-season

Fortunately, the positives overweight the negatives for the Swiss veteran, who is the oldest player currently in the world’s top 100. In September he celebrated the 20th anniversary of his debut on the ATP Tour at the Grand Prix de Tennis de Toulouse in France.

“I’m very proud that at 37 I’m still so competitive and so happy playing tennis. From that standpoint, as disappointed as I might be about this match if I take a step back, I’m actually very happy about the season.” He told reporters after his loss to Zverev on Saturday.

Federer will now embark upon the off-season where he is expected to conduct his usual preparation in Dubai. During a recent interview with newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, he has outlined two areas of his game that he wants to improve on. His forehand and his play at the net.

“As far as tennis is concerned, I would like to find my way back to the net more often,” he said.
“And of course I want to whip the forehand right again.
“Then there is the condition training with Pierre (Paganini).
“Of course, deciding whether to play on clay or not has an impact on the training program.”

Federer will return to action at the Hopman Cup, which will get underway on December 29th.

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