Tennis world planning multi-million dollar financial aid for lower-ranked players

By Russell FullerBBC tennis correspondent
This year's Wimbledon was cancelled on 1 April
This year's Wimbledon was cancelled on 1 April

The four Grand Slams and tennis' three governing bodies are finalising a multi-million dollar package of financial assistance for lower-ranked players.

Details of the package, which is likely to be worth at least $6m, are expected to be announced later this week.

A player's ranking will be used as a starting point, but previous earnings and other income may be taken into consideration when players apply for support.

Discussions, which have proved complex, began shortly after professional tennis was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on 12 March.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are hoping top 100 singles and top 20 doubles players will contribute to a separate $1m fund for men ranked outside the top 250.

In a letter written by Djokovic, president of the ATP Player Council, and first revealed in Sports Illustrated, they suggest donations on a sliding scale. So the world's top five - the three of them, Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev - would contribute $30,000 each, and those ranked between 51 and 100 $5,000 each.

They calculate that would allow singles players ranked between 250 and 700 to receive a further grant of $10,000 each.

The sentiment is admirable, but it may be difficult to persuade some players just inside the top 100, and currently without any income, to part with $5,000.

Djokovic admitted as much during an Instagram Live with the Italian player Fabio Fognini on Tuesday.

"It's difficult to pressure players into giving money, whatever their ranking is," the world number one said.

"I understand that there are differences in opinions. So I invite anyone who likes tennis, who wants tennis to survive as a sport [to make a donation]."

There may also be those who question whether it is right to award $10,000 to someone like the current world number 700 (Germany's Dominik Boehler), as it amounts to more than his combined singles and doubles earnings for the whole of 2019.

Fairness has also been uppermost in the mind of the four Grand Slams, the ITF, the ATP and the WTA. They hope to come up with a scheme which, while simple to access, also benefits those most in need. That will not be easy, given older players - who may not have much in the way of savings - are more likely to have a family to support, and mortgage payments to meet.

There is currently no indication the leading women's players are considering a proposal like the one put forward by the ATP Player Council. But the WTA chief executive Steve Simon says the organisation has already distributed over $3m to players since the suspension of play in March.

It is thought some of that money comes from the return of tour membership fees, and the reimbursement of travel expenses to tournaments which had to be cancelled at short notice.

Players may also have access to support from their national federations. In the UK, for example, the LTA are offering a grant of £1140 for singles players ranked between 101 and 750 - as long as they are not already in possession of funding from the governing body.

Professional tennis is suspended until at least 13 July, but with play behind closed doors an unattractive proposition for tournaments and promoters, the expectation is that the tours will not return until late summer at the very earliest.

Wimbledon has already been cancelled, and the US Tennis Association will decide in June whether the US Open can go ahead in New York from 31 August.

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