India’s top-ranked singles tennis players, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Sumit Nagal, aren’t entirely in agreement with the player-driven model to help lower-ranked tennis players weather the coronavirus pandemic crisis. Though they agree in principle with the idea of creating a relief fund, they feel the game’s governing bodies should have taken the lead instead.
The view mirrors that of World No.3 Dominic Thiem, who last week opposed the idea, but without questioning the professionalism of lower-ranked players like the Austrian did. Nagal (ranked 127) and Prajnesh (ranked 132) are in a bracket where they would neither be expected to contribute nor receive help from the fund, but both have toiled long enough to understand the rigours players go through.
“I don't think the players are happy about it,” Nagal told Sportstar . “Ideally the ATP, the ITF and the Slams should raise the money. The $10,000 promised is certainly going to be nice for some, but I don't think taking it from the players is the right thing. It is not the fault of the guy ranked 30 that a player at 400 is not making money.”
While Prajnesh stated that it was important in these stressful times to look out for fellow players, he pointed to the need for better targeting of beneficiaries.
“Players ranked outside 250 are surely losing money because they spend more than they earn,” Prajnesh said. “But if I am a player contributing, I would like to know what has changed because they are not spending now. It is a tough question to ask but not all players ranked outside 300 make a living purely by playing.
“Some may play club matches, do some coaching, play fewer tournaments or travel only when there is money. It may be that they cannot break even now because they have some constant expenses but cannot earn it back. So there needs to be solid criteria to determine who needs support, like age, career prize money, federation support etc.”
To some, even the proposal to make all those inside the top-100 contribute is arbitrary. Players in the top-80 are assured of incomes over a longer period while those on the cusp of breaking into the 100 or just inside are often on the knife’s edge. One good or bad run at a tournament is often the difference between making the main draw of a Grand Slam and missing out. The stakes are high, for, a solitary first-round appearance at a Major can fetch as much as $55,000.
“They should have taken the average singles cut off for the past five years and drawn the line well inside that. It is fair for people who are consistently making the main draws of Slams but not others," Nagal opined.
Prajnesh said that paying players better in normal times will help cushion them from future disruptions. “The right way is for the governing bodies to raise the money or create a system where they pay the players more so that such a situation doesn't arise. It is not the players’ job to find a way. It is a flaw in the system if this is how it has to be.”