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.

 

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* 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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Rafael Nadal claims his ninth title in Rome

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Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 in the eagerly awaited final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on the Centre Court in Rome to claim his ninth title of his legendary career in the Italian capital. Nadal has become the first player in history to win 34 Masters 1000 titles.

 

Nadal and Djokovic met for the 54th time in their careers and for the 26time in a final. Djokovic entered the Rome final with a 28-25 win-loss record and beat Nadal in three sets in this year’s Australian Open final by the scoreline of 6-3 6-2 6-3.

The top 2 players of the ATP Ranking won 12 of the last 14 Rome titles.

Nadal took a bagel win in a one-sided first set with three consecutive breaks and earned 59 % of his return points. Nadal broke in the first game of the opening set after a loose forehand from Djokovic. Nadal went up a double break to open a 3-0 lead with a forehand down the line and claimed the opening set in the sixth game with a service winner after 38 minutes.

Djokovic bounced back in the second set and earned a break point in the fourth game, but Nadal saved it with a forehand down the line winner.

The Serbian player saved three break points he faced in the seventh game of the second set and fended off another chance at 4-4. Nadal wasted a game point in the 10th game and sent a forehand long to drop serve in the 10th game. With his only break Djokovic claimed the second set 6-4 forcing the match to the third set.

The Serbian player earned his first break point of the match at 2-1 in the second set with a forehand, but Nadal saved it with an inside.in forehand winner. Nadal brought up three break points at 3-3 0-40 with a lob that Djokovic smashed into the net.

Djokovic saved the 4th fourth break point of the second set at 4-4 before breaking serve at deuce in the 10th game to close out the second set 6-4, when Nadal missed wide.

Nadal started the decisive set with an immediate break at deuce in the opening game. Djokovic saved a break point in the third game at deuce, but dropped his serve for the second time at 30 in the fifth game to trail 1-4 after a backhand error Nadal wrapped up the match with his third break in the seventh game on his first match point at deuce to clinch his ninth title in Rome and his 34th Masters 1000 trophy. Nadal has lifted his first title of the 2019 season and his first tournament since last August’s Rogers Cup.

Nadal won the Rome title for the second consecutive year becoming the first player to successfully defend a title in 2019. The Spanish player had not won a single tournament in 2019, but he reached three consecutive semifinals in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

The Spanish player becomes the oldest Rome champion in the history of the Rome tournament.

Nadal received the Rome trophy from former Roland Garros and Rome champion Gustavo Kuerten during a ceremony attended by Italian tennis legend Nicola Pietrangeli and Italian tennis Federation President Angelo Binaghi.

“For me it’s always an honour to play in Rome. I played here for the first time in 2005. I thank the crowd for their support. I played the first set very well. The most important thing is to return to my best level. All titles are special, but this win means a lot to me, because Rome has a very important place in the history of our sport. I had a very difficult week. For me, as I have said ever day, winning titles is important, but for me the most important thing is to feel myself competitive and healthy. And then with the feeling I am improving.” Nadal said during a post-match interview with TennisTV.

 “I know if I reach my level, you can win or you can lose, but normally I will have my chances. Especially on this surface. I am very happy with my victory. It was a great match, I played well and now I’m just enjoying the moment.” Nadal summarised.

 “It is always special playing against Novak, against Roger (Federer). These kind of matches has been tradition in the sport for the last 10 or so years.” he said.

 “Novak is having a great season. Winning in Australia and winning last week in Madrid. It’s an important win for me, but what means a lot is winning again here in Rome. It is one of the most important events of the year.”

Nadal did not drop a set en route to reaching the final, while four-time Rome champion Djokovic won two three-set marathon matches against Juan Martin Del Porto in the quarter final and Diego Schwartzman in the semifinal and spent 5 hours and 34 minutes compared to Nadal ‘s 3 hours and 22 minutes.

“No, I don’t want to talk about the fatigue. Simply Nadal was the better player today.” Djokovic said during the trophy presentation.

 

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Novak Djokovic battles past Diego Schwartzman to set up a blockbuster final against Rafael Nadal in Rome

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Novak Djokovic battled past Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-7 (2-7) 6-3 in the semifinal of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia setting up a blockbuster final against Rafael Nadal.

 

In their previous head-to-head match Djokovic recovered from 2 sets to one down to win in five sets at 2017 Roland Garros.

Both players played a good match, but Djokovic raised his level in the most decisive moments of the match. Djokovic was not affected by his 3-hour marathon match against Juan Martin Del Potro, where he saved two match points.

Djokovic won another thrilling match after 2 hours and 31 minutes against Schwartzman reaching his 9th final in Rome and his 49th title match at Masters 1000 level.

Djokovic converted four of his five break points and dropped his serve twice.

Djokovic got his first break in the eighth game, when Schwartzman netted a backhand. Djokovic held his serve with three winners in the ninth game to close out the opening set 6-3 after 38 minutes.

Djokovic and Schwartzman traded four consecutive breaks from 3-2 in the second set. Schwartzman went up a break twice at 4-2 and 5-3, but Djokovic broke back both times in the seventh and ninth games to draw level to 5-5 setting up a tie-break. Schwartzman took two mini-breaks and won all points on serve to win the tie-break 7-2 forcing the match to the third set.

In the third set they traded five service games before Djokovic earned the decisive break in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead, when Schwartzman made a backhand error. The Serbian player held serve in the ninth game to secure his spot in the final.

Djokovic and Nadal will meet for the 54th time. The Serbian player leads 28-25 in his head-to-head matches against the Spaniard. Both players hold the record of 33 Masters 1000 titles.

“He keeps on showing to the world why Nadal is one of the biggest legends of tennis history. I have the greatest respect for him. He is my greatest of all time. Every time we get to play each other, it’s a thrill. It’s the ultimate challenge”, said Djokovic.  

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Novak Djokovic Keeps Faith Ahead Of Schwartzman Semi-Final In Rome

Novak Djokovic is keeping the faith as he looks forward to a semi-final match with Diego Schwartzman in Rome.

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Novak Djokovic (@ATP_Tour - Twitter)

World number one Novak Djokovic is keeping the faith ahead of his Rome semi-final against Diego Schwartzman. 

 

The four-time champion survived a massive test late last night as he battled past Juan Martin Del Potro 4-6 7-6(6) 6-4 in just over three hours.

After saving two match points the Serb proved to be too clinical as he clinched victory at about 1am in the morning on Saturday.

In a short interview after his match Djokovic said that keeping faith was important in his quarter-final victory, I never lost faith I could come back to the match,” Djokovic explained.

“One break of serve, mini break in the tiebreak when he was 6-4, more or less open forehand that he was making the entire match, that’s all it took for me to come back. I’m just really pleased to overcome.”

In addition to keeping mentally strong, Djokovic also praised Del Potro’s performance as he continues his recovery from a knee injury, “He was playing really good. I tried my best obviously all the way till the end,” Djokovic said.

I lost probably the positioning of the court over him. Towards the end of the first he just started hitting the ball really well from both corners. Also backhand side, backhand down the line. He was playing really well. Gave me a lot of trouble.”

Next up for Djokovic is Diego Schwartzman who is into his first ever masters 1000 semi-final and is yet to drop a set this week.

The Serb leads the head-to-head 2-0 although their last match went to five sets at Roland Garros a couple of years ago. It should be a fascinating match which takes place at 8pm local time as Djokovic looks to keep the faith heading into the French Open.

 

 

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