Net Loss

High risks, costs force out Black tennis players

Erick Johnson | 4/3/2014, 9 a.m.
One look at Serena Williams hoisting the crystal Sony Trophy on Saturday to a worldwide television audience and you’ll find ...

Part II

One look at Serena Williams hoisting the crystal Sony Trophy on Saturday to a worldwide television audience and you’ll find another young inspired Black tennis heading to an inner-city court to chase after similar dreams.

But a look at the cost of becoming the next tennis superstar has many players packing their bags.

It’s a startling reality that’s forcing many talented Black tennis players to abandon their dreams to pursue more financially and professionally rewarding careers. With the success of the Williams sisters, more Black players are entering the sport, but many are leaving faster than they are coming. Soaring costs in tennis and economic disparities are creating barriers for many Black players who may be next champion to restore America’s dominance of the sport.

They want to be like Serena, who collected $734,000 Saturday for capturing a record seventh Sony Ericsson Open title on Key Biscayne. But Serena’s rival, Maria Sharapova, whom she defeated in the semifinals of the Sony will make millions more this year than the world’s greatest female tennis player. In fact, with demand for players that appeal to the sport’s rich, affluent consumers, Sharapova’s career earning may top Serena’s despite having 13 fewer Grand Slam Titles than her rival.

But the hardships may be a blessing to some Black tennis players who have become fighters, a quality that many attribute to Serena’s success and her 17 Grand Slam Titles against European and Russian players. Many say tennis needs tougher, athletic Black players to help the rid sport of elitism, greed, and expensive programs that produce spoiled tennis players.

Blacks, have traditionally excelled in football, basketball and track because of their athleticism, power and strength. But tennis is a game that requires consistency to master challenging techniques in footwork, serving, strokes and other fundamentals. But consistency cost money. Lots of money.


Parents are doling out on average $150,000 on training and tournaments, according to various local and national coaches who spoke to the Miami Times. The amount is based on the average player, but expenses for a highly ranked 12 or 14-year-old competing in more tournaments by sport’s governing body, the United States Tennis Association, can easily run as high as $250,000, according to Juandell Brunner, head coach at Tamiami Tennis Center in Miami.

The prize payoff for a USTA tournament is just a trophy.

Black parents and Coaches spend thousands of dollars to have their young players compete in USTA tournaments just for credit points and rankings which are required for entry in the more lucrative Junior International Tennis Federation Circuit for players ages 15 and up. Prize money for the ITF ranges between $10,000 and $50,000, but only for first and second place winners. Less successful players who lose in earlier rounds receive nothing despite paying high tournament entry fees and travel and hotel costs.

It’s a risk all young and professional tennis face, but with little payouts at junior tournaments, the gambles are especially high for youths and non-professional players. Money is why 15 year-old Donald Young Jr. skipped the Jr. ITF and entered the American Tennis Professionals tour, where he competed against top-ranked players Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic and other tough competitors. On the ATP tour, all players including those who lose in the first round, are guaranteed a cash amount for their participation.