Hi all! I never post here, but friends in the Gastón Gaudio forum suggested the following translation might be of general interest.
It´s a very comprehensive article (9 pages!) written in Argentina shortly after Gaudio won Roland Garros, and the writer has interviewed most of the Argentine players to get a full picture of how players climb the ladder to success, what they earn, what the perks are, what sort of guarantees they get, all you wanted to know about professional tennis but nobody ever tells you...
Hope you like it!
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Each step up in the professional tennis world means a more agreeable future.
As from the 100th place in the world rankings, players can enjoy certain priviledges, but the best are reserved for the top ten. Gastón Gaudio experienced how life can change with a jump and a Grand Slam in one´s pocket.
In many aspects the professional tennis circuit can be compared with society in general. For example, there are very different scales for the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, guys who have to make do somehow and who spend more than they earn, and megastars who are treated like kings and never stop increasing their bank accounts. To continue with the simile, the class differences in the ATP circuit are determined by the rankings, which also have a dividing line. That line is the number 100 in the ranking. On one side and the other of that number, there are two totally different worlds.
THE BERLIN WALL
“The aim you set yourself when you start to play professionally is to be in the top hundred. Because you know that if you achieve it you can start to live off your tennis earnings and to make money to be able to continue playing”. Gastón Gaudio, who today enjoys the priviledges of having touched that top ten line thanks to his historic triumph in Roland Garros, does not forget how important crossing that iron curtain was for his life and finances.
The world´s first one hundred have a place assured in fifteen tournaments: the four Grand Slams and eleven ATPs. That permits them to programme their year in a different way, because just by participating they earn more than by winning challenger matches. Simply by stepping on the grass of Wimbledon, the clay of Roland Garros, the rebound ace of Australia or the cement of the US Open each player receives a check for over 12,000 dollars. Let alone winning, when they practically double that figure. In the ATP tournaments the prizes are lower but not to be despised. To lose in the first round in a tournament such as Stuttgart means 3,500 dollars more in their wallets.
In the challenger, future and satellite tournaments – where the players who aren´t in the select group of one hundred play – the prizes are much lower. Those which award the most money and points are the challengers, which in turn are divided into five categories according to the prize money they distribuye: from 25,000 to 125,000 dollars. The player who loses in the first round gets one percent of the total.
Juan Ignacio Chela reveals which other benefits come with belonging to the one hundred club: “You start to be better known, they pay for your hotels and food, they give you transport in all the tournaments and you are considered an important player in the challengers”.
And the differences, which are pronounced as far as earnings go, are painful when losses are examined carefully. The air tickets are an expense shared by players on both sides of the hundred line, but the cost of hotels is borne only by the lower-ranked players. ATP tournaments are obliged by ATP regulations to guarantee the players five days of free lodging and one meal per day.
”The differences between playing in a challenger and an ATP are numerous. The level is different, the tournament, the organization. The difference in rhythm and in the quality of the players is noticeable. In a challenger they can give away two or three games, in an ATP they don´t even give a point away”, Agustín Calleri affirms.
But even though the money and the points are better in an ATP, so are the risks for those who don´t enter directly in the draw. “You know before you start that you can lose in the qualy and spend 2000 dollars in a week. Normally, those who risk that are the ones who have a sponsor or who have already accumulated some capital to be able to play. Someone who has just started playing would never attempt it. If he spent 2000 dollars per week he would be out of funds for other tournaments. Besides, if you play a qualy they don´t pay for your hotel, they don´t pay for your food, and you have to add the cost of the airplane, which the player always pays for”, analyses Franco Squillari, one who has known the luxuries reserved for top players.
When the ranking is insufficient to enter a tournament directly and one has to decide between an ATP and a challenger, lots of aspects have to be weighed: the stress of a qualy, the points and dollars envolved, the surface of the courts, the time of year, the distance in kilometers and hours with the previous tournament and the next. The decision is difficult and the risks taken are big.
Diego Veronelli, who is round about 170 in the ranking, very often finds himself facing this dilemma. “I plan tours of no more than four or five weeks. Sometimes I decide to play a few challengers if I´m defending points and enter directly, but if I don´t need to defend points I may enter for the qualy of an ATP. If you win two matches of the qualy and you lose the last one, you add nothing; in a challenger if you win two matches you´re in the quarter finals and you it does add up. But it´s also true that in an ATP, to get through the qualy and win two matches is like the title in a challenger”, he explains.
DOUBLES OR NOTHING
Playing doubles, which have such little press, are a good means of income for some players. They distribute half the prize money, or less, than the singles, but according to the tournament, it can be a lot. To lose in the first round of doubles in a Grand Slam represents 5000 dollars in the lady´s purse or the gentleman´s pocket. Direct entry depends on the ranking, adding the rankings of both players. “Sometimes it´s real suffering –Veronelli relates- when the inscription opens they´re all doing sums to see if they´re in. Some of them, in case they don´t get in with one player, have already arranged to enter with another. It´s a fight, and sometimes they all end up at loggerheads”.
INVESTMENT FOR THE FUTURE
Without a sponsor and with a low ranking that doesn´t permit direct entry to the ATP tournaments, many players have found a way to continue playing and make money: the Interclubs. In France and Germany tennis is not only very popular, there are also extremely professional tournaments organized between clubs of different cities, with a lot of money at stake, sponsoring by important firms, television coverage and great public attendance on the courts.
“I have a manager, to whom I pay 20% of my earnings, and who gets me good contracts with German second league clubs. I am paid 3000 dollars per match and I play about seven or eight per year. As you have almost no expenses it´s almost all profit. The drawback is that you can´t play tournaments and in those weeks you don´t accumulate points. But the fact is that I make very good money and with that I can support myself for the rest of the season”. Veronelli´s recipe is repeated by the majority of the South American players who aren´t among the top one hundred of the ranking.
And even though this tendency increased after the devaluation (of the Argentine currency), for the last few years it had become a habit among Argentine players. Almost all the well-known faces of Argentine tennis have played interclubs at some point of their careers. “Except for Coria and Nalbandian, who were supported by the Argentine Association, the rest have played interclubs. There´s good money there and it´s a sort of starting point to begin travelling and get some cash to start playing important tournaments. But it´s hard to have to remain four months in Europe because you can´t afford to travel more frequently to Argentina”, says Gaudio, based on the experience of having played three years in Germany.
There are all sorts of arrangements between the clubs and the players, but the Germans always leave it written down in the contracts. The majority cover air fares and all local costs. The amounts involved vary a lot and depend on the player´s ranking. Those who are nearer the 200 mark can get between 1500 and 3000 euros. The higher their world ranking – those above the top 50 are not allowed to participate – the higher is their remuneration, which in the case of a player ranked 60 can reach 10,000 euros per match. Calleri, another player who has experience in this, adds: “I played in the Bundesleague twice, the last time in 2000. I was ranked 75 and it was great, because they also paid you for winning and for the doubles. I made more dough than I had made up till then. And the level is good. You have players who are ranked 60 or 70. In Germany they take it very seriously and at some clubs there were 4000 people watching the matches”.
Besides, there are bonuses for winning, and the clubs don´t always demand exclusive rights as the players can be authorised to travel to play in an ATP and return, so long as it was agreed beforehand. “Normally they ask you to dedicate yourself fully to the club and they don´t want you to take part in a tournament at the same time, but perhaps they might let you play the first round. In that case you have to throw the match and return to play the interclubs. It´s not nice, but when you need the money you do it. You might go to play a first round, the next day you travel to play the interclubs and after that you go off to another tournament”, Squillari reveals. To put an end to this maneuver, and because there were many matches that were thrown, the ATP decided to create a new ruling to fine players who participate in interclubs and circuit tournaments at the same time.
The Argentine women players also take advantage of the interclub benefits, even though they aren´t as financially beneficial as they are for the men. Natalia Gussoni, who is ranked around 130 in the WTA, managed to get a contract in which she is paid 1000 euros per match. And even though the figures in euros are triplicated in Argentina due to the favourable exchange, she has to be frugal and save as much as possible when she´s on the other side of the Atlantic. “If there´s no alternative I travel by air between one city and the next. But it always depends on the distance and the cost. Players of my ranking have to be careful with our expenditures and that´s why we usually travel by train within Europe”, Gussoni explains.
THE FIRST WORLD
Once players are installed among the world´s top one hundred, the goal is to enter the top 50. To enter this elite group guarantees a place in the Masters Series, the nine most important tournaments after the Grand Slams.
The names and faces of those who belong to this group are recognized by everyone who has seen, even out of the corner of the eye, a couple of matches on TV. And that is precisely what attracts the big firms. The offer of contracts from clothing and racquet manufacturers increases, as well as from firms which have no connection with the world of tennis.
For the organizers of tournaments, all players are not the same. “The manner in which they treat you changes a lot as you ascend in the ranking – Calleri says-. They attend to you increasingly better. Perhaps those who are higher placed are given two rooms, a car to get about in on their own and other comforts. I think that´s as it should be, because it´s a way to compensate for all the sacrifices one has made to get up there and it also serves as motivation”.
Even though many don´t agree, to reach the top 50 is more difficult than to stay up there. This is because the circuit is designed to make everything simpler for the players who have reached those priviledged positions. With this system, those on top have direct entry to the most important tournaments and that allows them to programme the year differently. This has also brought about a change in the circuit over the last few years, as players with the highest rankings prepare for the major tournaments and don´t bother with the smaller ones.
They choose to participate in the Grand Slams, the Masters Series and a few other ATP tournaments. Unless he suffers an injury or a string of bad results, it´s unlikely that a player who has reached the top 50 or 60 will fall out of the first positions rapidly. In general, the benefits and the large earnings improve a player´s performance and make everything easier.
To give an example, this is Chela´s case: “When I was close to the top 50 I hired a German manager, who works together with an Argentine. They get me everything. They handle the flight and hotel bookings, manage my contracts and receive the offers. Besides, having a good ranking allows you to give yourself certain luxuries. As you know that you will earn at least a minimum, you can invite a relative or a friend and travel with a full work team, with a coach and trainer”.
Another source of income for the majority of the top 50 are the “guarantees”, the contracts that tournament managers make with the players to ensure their presence. “When my ranking was good –Squillari remembers- they used to call me on my cell-phone and invite me. They made you an offer and you stipulated the conditions. But when you´re on top you have to be intelligent in the way you arrange your schedule and not say yes to everything. There have been players who went and played everywhere to make the most of the moment, and in one or two years they were physically worn-out”.
The arrangements between players and coaches aren´t always the same. There are contracts for a fixed sum of money, for percentages of the prize money –generally between 10 and 20%- or a mix: a basic sum plus a percentage. This last option is the one most used on the circuit. Franco Squillari justifies it: “If you are a coach and you have a high percentage, you will be ten times more interested for your player to win than if you just have a fixed sum. It is a system in which both are more motivated. As a player, you want your coach to receive his reward if you do well, and if you do badly, he should pay for it as well. It´s one of the best arrangements”.
THE RICH AND FAMOUS
They are the kings of the circuit and they are treated as such at every time and in every place. Except for the Grand Slams and the Super Nine, in which they are obliged to play, for the rest of the tournaments they receive guarantees. The ATP tournaments die for the priviledge of counting with the presence of the top ten, so the organizers do everything possible to make them feel much better than at home.
The success of a tournament depends on the presence of players like Federer, Roddick, Hewitt, Coria and the rest of the troupe who occupy the first ten rungs. “They treat you in a spectacular way. During the tournaments they attend me very well and they always get me very good hotel rooms. One enjoys it a lot, but it´s also a responsibility, and that´s why I believe one has to train harder, to be able to stay up there”, the “Mago” remarks.
The worst thing that can happen to the director of a tournament is the absence of players who attract the public, and for that reason they try to ensure the presence of top ten players a year in advance. So, while a tournament is in progress, irresistible offers of guarantees are being made for the next year´s edition. These guarantees, which vary a lot according to the player –but which in the case of the top five can be as much as 50,000 dollars- generally include:
- Passages for the player, his work group and his entourage of friends and relatives.
- All food and lodging costs for the player and his companions.
- A car for him to drive himself freely during the duration of the tournament, or a chauffeur on 24-hour-call.
- Everything else the player and his entourage might fancy.
The important ATPs don´t need to pay out so much money for a top ten because, in general, they´re tournaments which players want to play. Instead, it´s the tournaments with less prestige that have to invest the most. Especially because there are several where a top ten´s ranking will not vary at all even if he reaches the final and wins. In those cases there is no alternative, there has to be an extra motivation.
For example, André Agassi has been known to receive 200,000 dollars to play in an ATP. And in cases such as those, of such famous players, sometimes it´s not only the guarantee that counts, as there are other questions that can move the scales such as whether the player likes that country, if playing there will not affect a subsequent tour, or if the public are going to treat him well.
A case in point could be Guga and the Buenos Aires ATP. Regardless of whether he is paid a guarantee, the Brazilian plays here because he feels comfortable and he knows that at the Lawn Tennis he´s a local boy, even if there´s an Argentine on the opposite side of the net.
Who has suddenly begun to feel how gratifying and difficult it is to be a mega-star is Gastón Gaudio. With his triumph in Paris, the Gato has made himself strong in the ranking of a circuit in which the higher you are, the less you spend and the more you earn.
From the moment in which he shot that backhand which decided the final of Roland Garros, Gastón Gaudio never ceases to be amazed by the repercussions of his triumph: all the homages, official requests and the support of the ordinary people in the street.
After winning Roland Garros, Gastón Gaudio discovered what the top ten feel. Even before obtaining the title in Paris he had started to notice the change: “When you are getting to the final instances there are few players left, and then the attention is for three or four. I don´t know how I´ll be treated from now on because I haven´t played in any tournament, but I have to play in Sweden and they´ve already called to tell me they are preparing a ceremony. I would never have imagined that I would play a tournament where I would be honoured. Those are the sort of things that you have to start to assume and to accept and that before you didn´t even imagine existed”.
-What other things have changed in your life since you won Roland Garros?
-“As far as my family is concerned, nothing has changed. The changes consist in having to give interviews and accepting engagements that you don´t feel like doing, but which you have to do. For example, the Sports Secretariat calls you for something, the President´s office for another, the press conference you have to give when you arrive, you have to employ a press agent because if you don´t they´ll drive you crazy on the telephone, you have to change your cell-phone number... You have to be nicer all day, because each time a little kid greets you you´re not going to send him cracking just because you´re tired. You can´t go and get tight anywhere or at any time with your friends, because people recognize you, they´re looking at you and it gives a bad impression. People who know nothing about tennis will talk about you and start to invent things. A lot of things change that you would have prefered not to change”.
-And are you also inundated by offers?
-“Yes, now they offer you more dough to go to play in a tournament, an exhibition. I´ve received lots of calls these last few days to play in various tournaments. The contracts I already had stay the same, although the conditions will surely change when they finish, but my manager tqkes care of all that. But all this is not what has impressed me most. I swear that I would change all that for the happiness that winning Roland Garros has given me”.
-Was there anything which really stunned you, that you never imagined could happen?
-“What impressed me most was how people took the match against Coria, a Roland Garros final between two Argentines. I was amazed by the people´s enthusiasm, it was like a River-Boca match. Everybody was caught up in the match, and to arrive here and have people tell you: “You don´t know how I cried”! For your mother to tell you that is understandable, but for people who you don´t even know to tell you that is really touching. They stop me and tell me they had “cábalas” for me. One guy said that he finished seeing the match grasping a window, because when he grasped it once, I started to win, and he didn´t dare let go anymore”.
WORDS OF ONE WHO KNOWS
Eduardo Puppo, the guy whose telephone is on fire because of all the calls he receives from the media all over the world asking for interviews with the Paris champion, is a good source to analyse the moment Gaudio is living through: “After he won Roland Garros Gastón went through a profound change in his relationship with people in general. Perhaps it´s a turning point that only his parents, brothers and closest friends can perceive, that his Paris triumph was much more than winning a Grand Slam. He won a battle over his own life and withdrew the knife from the wound of all who really love him”.
A great change, according to Puppo, can be found in the street: “Now they shout “Grande, Gaudio”, while only fifteen days ago there were still those who accused him of lack of guts. And he never stops saying that life offered him this wonderful opportunity and he was able to take it. What is undeniable is that Gaudio has taken his new-found fame with great professionalism”.
THE TRAIN PASSED AND HE GOT ON IT
The journalist who covered Roland Garros for Latin America and for La Red was moved by Gaudio´s triumph, because he considers that he showed he was capable of taking advantage of this new opportunity that tennis gave him, in the best possible way.
The train passes once or twice in a lifetime. The thing is to be able to take advantage of the opportunity. Most people let the train go by and only realize when they can no longer reach it. Gastón Gaudio let that train go by several times. He can think himself fortunate because the train came back for him. It was one of the last stations, there was no more room to fail; it was now or never, and it was now.
Gastón saw the dark in September of 2003, when he went to Málaga to defend his country´s colours in the Davis Cup semifinals. He went with the reputation of being a “Davis Cup player”. He had won 14 out of the 15 matches he had played. There was nothing to indicate that his nerves would let him down, but when he faced Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moyá everything collapsed.
From that moment on, the press had its day: not the tennis press, but that other one which appears in important moments to proffer opinions as if it knew what it´s all about, when in fact it doesn´t understand a thing. It´s as if one gives an opinion on economy or medicine.
The results seemed to confirm what the imprudent were saying; however, they never considered that beneath the clothes of the tennis player there was a human being. The media were merciless with him.
Everything continued as if under a cloud until the World Cup this year, when playing against Lleyton Hewitt he faced another typical wasted opportunity, except that this time he didn´t let the opportunity escape. That match was the turning point. One week before Roland Garros.
Later, in Paris, he had to take several difficult subjects: chemistry (Cañas), physics (Novak), shorthand (Hewitt), latin (Nalbandian) and mathematics (Coria). And Gastón approved all of them, some scratching through, others with a 10. For example, against Cañas, Novak, Enquist and Coria, with a 7; Hewitt and Nalbandian, with a 10. The thing is, the guy graduated as a hero. He had gone there as a loser, his ranking was 44, nobody took him into consideration and everybody expected him to weaken. It almost happened in the end, but he reacted in time.
Now the question with Gastón is the day after.
What´s in store for him in the future?
Will this victory change his life?
Many say: “Big joke, if he´s just won a million dollars”.
Of course, one has to discount 30% taxes, at least 10% for his work group, a percentage for his agent (Patricio Apey, Jr.). Various other expenses. He will have about half left, which isn´t bad. But in truth, the prize is the least of it. Gastón has finished his work, now his agent is in charge. There will be new contracts, he will be treated differently, like a champion. Yes, because (even if those who said he lacked guts don´t like it) Gaudio is the only one after Vilas and Sabatini to have won a Grand Slam, and this priviledge belongs to him, and nothing nor nobody can take that away from him.
He will be paid guarantees at tournaments, he will be invited to play exhibitions, he will be acosted by the “friends of the champion”, coincidentally the same ones who used to criticize him. He was invited to the same TV programmes that tore him apart pitilessly before.
He chose two: CQC, he´s a friend of Pergolini, so it´s justified, and Susana Giménez, who tempted him with a car. I congratulate him because he hasn´t wandered around every gossip programme out there. I criticize him for not going to the sports programmes.
I hope he won´t just be satisfied with the title, that he will make the most of it and prove that it wasn´t a chance win. Coria went there to win and left frustrated. Gaudio went to play and deservedly found the trophy. He will have to take advantage of that.
Finally, I hope he won´t end up like some others, that he will copy his idol Gabriela Sabatini and never change. That he will continue to be the same humble guy he always was, but with a high self-esteem.
I hope that that self-esteem won´t change him, because when they are number 30 all the players are nice; when they grow up and go up in the ranking, they change. If Coria had won, a star would have won; Gaudio won, and an ordinary guy won, someone like you or I. That is good, because it means that you also can win.