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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Diego Schwartzman Receives Threats On Social Media Following Shock Davis Cup Defeat

The world No.15 is the latest player to speak out about recieving abusive messages on social media.

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The weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster for Diego Schwartzman, who suffered ‘one of the worst’ losses of his career before helping secure victory for his country in their Davis Cup tie against Belarus.

 

On Saturday the world No.15 was stunned by unranked 18-year-old Daniil Ostapenkov who is yet to play a professional match on the pro Tour. Ostapenkov is currently ranked 63 in the world on the junior circuit. The comprehensive victory shocked the Argentinian team who was hosting the tie at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.

Despite the shock upset, Schwartman managed to redeem himself the following day when he defeated Alexander Zgirovsky 6-1, 6-2. That victory handed his country an unassailable 3-1 lead in their tie and secured their place in the 2022 Davis Cup qualifiers which will take place next March.

Not only playing Davis, but in Buenos Aires, with a lot of people you don’t see, it’s not easy. My level can be and has to be much better. After the game on Saturday I had a difficult day in the spirit of being able to get up and enjoy with the group,” La Nacion quoted Schwartzman as saying.
“The most normal thing was that we won the series. It’s what everyone expected. But when you have a very difficult day at work like it was on Saturday and then you win, it excites you because you have some internal things withheld.”

Between those two matches, Schwartzman revealed that he was trolled on social media by some people unhappy about his loss in the tie. The 2020 French Open semi-finalist said he received criticism and even threats from some asking him to leave his home country. Something he admits affected him at times.

“It was one of the worst days of my career,” Schwartzman commented on his loss to Zgirovsky. “I lost to an unranked, inexperienced player. All that already affects (me) a lot. Although 80 or 90 percent of the people are always encouraging (me), there was a minority who criticized me with bad intentions.’
“I received threats, insults and requests not to return to Argentina. More or less, it affects (me)”.

Schwartzman is not the first player to speak out about online abuse. During the US Open Shelby Rogers said she was expecting to receive ‘death threats’ following her loss to Emma Raducanu who went on to win the title. Sloane Stephens has also previously spoken out about being the victim of racism online.

The 29-year-old says he has previously tried to interact with those who have trolled him on social media to find out why they are doing so.

Sometimes I start to answer some messages and I ask those people if they realize what they are sending,” Schwartzman said during his press conference. “The vast majority apologize and say they had not realized it. But at the moment it hurts. That very ill-intentioned criticism is the only bad thing about social networks.”

Schwartzman has won four ATP titles and earned more than $10M in prize money so far in his career.

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Spanish Veteran Feliciano Lopez Addresses Future On The Tour

23 years after he played his first main draw match on the ATP Tour, Lopez says his longevity in the sport has been achieved with the help of of some luck.

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Feliciano Lopez of Spain is pictured during the semi-final of ATP Fever-Tree Championships tennis tournament at Queen's Club in west London on June 20, 2019.

Feliciano Lopez has dismissed any speculation that he could retire in the coming weeks after saying he is taking life on the Tour in his stride.

 

The 39-year-old Spaniard is currently the second oldest player in the world’s top 200 after Roger Federer, who is a year older than him. Lopez made his ATP Tour debut at the 1998 Barcelona Open which was before the birth of Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. In June he became the 10th active player to record his 500th win on the Tour.

Currently ranked 111th in the world, some are starting to wonder how much longer Lopez will continue playing. So far this season he has achieved a win-loss record of 9-19 with his best performance being a run to the quarter-finals of the Mallorca Open which was held on the grass. It was in Mallorca where he defeated Karen Khachanov who is the only top 30 player he has beaten so far in 2021.

I play year-by-year, the last 6-7 years have been like this, a tennis player at that age cannot think about extending his career. After turning 30 I have been lucky, I have obtained the best results of my career,” Lopez told reporters on Friday.
It is not very common for players my age, at (almost) 40 years to continue playing in the best tournaments.” He added.

Throughout his career, Lopez has impressively played in a record 78 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments dating back to the 2002 French Open. During that period he has reached the quarter-finals of a major tournament on four occasions.

“I don’t play to break records, what makes me most excited is to continue playing Grand Slams. For me, maintaining that record (78 consecutive Grand Slams played) is very nice, but more to follow. Being competitive,” he commented on the milestone.
“It is difficult for someone to overcome it because it is 20 years in a row without missing a great one. I have had continuity and enormous luck. Those of my generation are practically all retired.”

Away from the court, the former world No.12 is the current tournament director of the Madrid Open. Making him one of a few players historically to both be playing on the Tour and managing a tournament at the same time. Recently it was confirmed that Madrid will continue hosting it’s combined event until at least 2030 following a renewed agreement between the city council and the Madrid trophy promotion.

Lopez has won a total of seven ATP titles so far in his career and has earned more than $18M in prize money.

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ATP Moves Closer To Staging Five More 12-Day Masters 1000 Events After Board Approval

Changes are coming to the men’s Tour which includes a brand new ‘profit-sharing formular’ for players.

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Masters tournaments in North America, Europe and Asia are set to be expanded over the coming months after the ATP Board recently approved some ‘key aspects’ of their strategic plan.

 

In a letter issued to players, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said an agreement has been reached concerning a variety of topics, which include the expansion of various Masters 1000 events. It is understood that the plan is for Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati and Shanghai to be increased to 12-day events instead of just one week. Putting them more in line with Indian Wells and Miami. Tennis.com reports that under the new structure, ATP 250 events will also take place during the second week of those tournaments and they could receive a subsidy from the ATP Tour, provided by extra fees paid by the Masters tournaments.

Masters 1000 events are the third highest-ranked category events in men’s tennis after Grand Slams and the ATP Finals in terms of prize money and ranking points on offer. The series was first introduced back in 1990 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the name ‘Masters 1000’ was born. The number represents how many ranking points the winner receives.

Besides the proposed changes to the Masters series, the Board has also given a green light to “a new Profit-Sharing formula” and “long-term prize money levels.” The prize money increase is reportedly said to be 2.5 percent of a base level, plus a bonus pool with a 50 percent share of the collective profit of the Masters events.

“This represents significant progress for our sport and the way our player and tournament members operate under the equal partnership of the ATP Tour. It is only through the spirit of this partnership, transparency, and alignment of interests that we can truly maximise your potential and switch our focus to the competition we face in the border sports and entertainment landscape,” Gaudenzi wrote in his letter to players.

Part of the plan also include making changes to ATP Media, who are in charge of broadcasting the events. At present it is currently jointly owned by the Tour and each of the Masters 1000 events. However, in the future it has been proposed that those tournaments trade in their ownership rights for shares in ATP media. Exact details about this process have not been publicly disclosed and it is unclear if all of the tournaments would agree to such a move.

The ATP also wants to create a ‘Tennis Data Innovations’ which will be an independent entity.

All of these proposed changes are still subject to further agreement around additional matters. The ATP have been working on details of their strategic plan for the past 18 months.

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