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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Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman

The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.

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Diego Schwartzman (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired. 

 

The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona. 

Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori. 

“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”

The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas. 

Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33. 

“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said. 
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”

The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match. 

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup

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The lineup for Day 3 (twitter.com/lavercup)

Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar.  Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup.  Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first. 

 

Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time.  And each match on Sunday is worth three points.


Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm

Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles.  So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday.  Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday.  Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist.  If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)

Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles.  While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever.  Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.

Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay.  It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1).  And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday.  Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.


Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary

Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games.  He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts.  However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.


Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary

Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday.  If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday

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The lineup for Day 2 (twitter.com/lavercup)

In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2.  And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit.  With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup? 

 

Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day.  Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm.  And each match on Saturday is worth two points.


Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm

These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions.  Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event.  Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati.  Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup.  Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.


Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session

Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play.  Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive.  Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17.  Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon.  They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets.  Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.


Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm

Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday?  He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock.  Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios.  The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.

Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5.  Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York.  Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets.  Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day.  But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.


Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session

Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here.  This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals.  Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2.  De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.


The full Laver Cup schedule is here.

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