This article touches on the financial side of tennis training as a career option in India and is based on average rates in academies and retail prices as of 2020/21.
Tennis as a hobby sport is economical enough to be taken up and played by most everyone. Anyone from the age of 6+ can pick up a racquet, get one week’s worth of classes and start playing at a beginner level.
Tennis as a potential career, is another story.
Let’s say a child starts training at the age of 6. By the time they hit their 14th birthday you’ve spent anywhere from Rs 8,00,000 to Rs 15,00,000 lakhs just on basic training. Once you factor in racquets, stringing, attire, shoes, grips etc…you are looking at an additional Rs 3,00,000 to Rs 6,00,000 lakhs depending on your lifestyle and equipment requirements. As the player starts competing, which usually happens around age 10 – 12, we can start adding travel, hotels etc… Budget around 10/12 at home tournaments and 4/6 away.
Average cost for away tournaments runs up to Rs 30,000 each, so an average of Rs 4,00,000 lakhs spread out over 3 years. If you have enough local tournament options available this amount can greatly reduce. With a good system to guide you, one can use all the local events to build their game up to be highly competitive.
The above is for a moderate level player who has a schedule of 10 to 20 tournaments per year from age 11 to 14, and plays relatively well.
Estimated total cost so far, from age 6 to 14:
- Training: Rs 8,00,000
- Equipment: Rs 3,00,000
- Tournaments: Rs 4,00,000*
- Average from age 6 to 14: Rs 15,00,000 (roughly Rs 1.7 lakhs per year for 9 years)
- *Reduce by Rs 3,00,000 if you play more local events.
The Next Level
Once you’ve decided to give a shot at the pros you need to start factoring in personalized coaching, which can cost you anywhere from Rs 30,000+ p/m and up. By their 14th birthday the player needs to be able to take on anything that comes at them over the net. Power and stamina will eventually improve over time.
Around the 14th – 15th year is when the player can start competing in lower level adult tournaments. Remember that most of the players on the international circuit today had already started playing higher level tennis by their 15th birthday and were able to compete with lower ranked adults.
This is the difference and gap which exists between Indian tennis and the rest of the world. All over the country the focus on pro level tennis starts after the 17th or 18th birthday. By that time you are looking at four more development years before one can compete at an international level. Provided they don’t get injured along the way.
Most of this is due to unqualified and uninformed coaches, plus the lack of infrastructure. The infrastructure is slowly changing, but it can’t do anything without a proper structure of training in place. For which you need qualified and experienced coaches.
This can still be corrected, with a structured player development program.
The above information is based on worldwide data which has produced all of the Top 100/200 today, it’s not personal opinion.
The ITF has two levels on the Men’s ($15K & $25K) and 5 on the Women’s ($15K, $25K, $60K, $80K & $100K) Pro circuit. At first glance, it does seem more lucrative to be a woman in this sport? At the ITF Pro level, yes it is. Sorry guys.
The first round loser will take home anywhere from $70 to $1000, not calculating taxes, airfare, hotel, food, court rentals and misc. expenses.
So technically you would be paying more than you are making, i.e if you make it to the main draw. Which usually takes winning 3 tough qualifying matches. Provided your name is high enough on the alternate list and you get in.
Keep Your Hopes Up
Don’t feel de-moralized there are many opportunities to ask for Wildcards and playing doubles until you get that one opportunity to make a breakthrough.
It gets better once you start winning, but it can take anywhere from 1 to 2 years of consistent results for you to enter into the Top 200. Once you get there you can try to get a spot in the qualifying of Grand Slams. Where even losing the 1st qualifying round can net you roughly $10,000.
Considering the above, you can see why it’s better to start targeting adult level tournaments at the age of 14/15 rather than 18 or 22. If you give a player 3 years of developmental process you can expect a far better result from them when they’ve officially crossed over age wise into the Pro circuit.
Higher Level, Higher Costs?!
Even if you start playing at the higher Pro level and earn prize money, you still haven’t even begun to cover your increasing expenses of specialized coaching, fitness, physiotherapy, rehab, massages etc…
It’s great if your Mom or Dad can step in and handle some of the above with acceptable expertise, but not everyone is so lucky to have these services available at home.
As you play higher level tennis you will need to start playing tournaments that are not so close together. More air travel and it soon doesn’t seem so glamorous waiting for your luggage. Or at times the lack thereof.
There will also be periods when you will need to take coaching in academies that offer 2 or 4 week programs to go up a level in your game. These can run anywhere from Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 3,00,000 p/m outside India.
Building A Support System
When players who hit the Top 150 in the world, even after being helped via private foundations, say that there simply are no sponsors coming forward we know that something is fundamentally wrong.
Start building relationships early in your junior career with either an entity or individual who can come forward to help propel your dreams. If your family is able to afford it unconditionally consider yourself lucky and don’t waste your opportunity.
Where’s The Money?
Prize money only starts making a difference in your tennis career once you hit the Top 100. Some journey men/women are quite content playing at the Challenger and Pro circuit level and always have deep runs enough to cover their costs and travel back home.
Those who work on mental training are able to get more wins and can enter into bigger events, where they obviously make more prize money.
Even if you are ranked 200 you still have a chance at playing the 1st round of qualifying in 4 Grand Slams per year, as I pointed above you can earn roughly $8,000 – $10,000 for losing in the 1st round. Hopefully you win though and there’s no looking back after that.
Is It Worth It?
I will only quote John Isner on this, as he summed it up perfectly in his article linked below.
Being able to travel with family and friends so they can cheer me on as I play is something it’s hard to put a price on; my point is simply that for all of this, there is indeed a price.
To sum up, pursuing a tennis career is not a one person show. It takes multiple individuals, many years, a ton of sacrifices, commitment in the face of loss and the drive to get up the next morning and do it all over again.
A fantastic support system and yes, money.
Why Wimbledon’s Prize Money Isn’t As High As You Think– by John Isner
How Pro Players Make Money – by John Isner