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 ...

But that move had a devastating effect on Donald, a junior Wimbledon winner who had lost 10 consecutive first round losses on the ATP tour, one of the longest losing streaks in the tour’s history. Donald’s top 100 ranking plummeted as low as 1,253 in 2009. His ranking has since climbed to 77 but he lost in the second round of the Sony to the big serving American, John Isner.


A tennis career starts at an early age, around seven or eight. For training, most parents enroll their children in expensive training schools such as the world-renowned IMG Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, which has produced Grand Slam champions Sharapova, Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

The academy is similar to college life where students live on campus 10 months out of a year. For five days a week, they spend four to fives hours practicing and refining their strokes with a coach. They also receive physical fitness training and guidance on nutrition and healthy eating habits. Students also receive academic degrees equivalent to a high school diploma.

Training and development at the academy is not cheap. Parents pay on average $68,495 at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and that excludes travel and hotel costs for out of state tournaments.

While some balk at the cost, most parents still pay the amount because and the academy’s reputation for producing the country finest players.

And some parents are making huge sacrifices to pay for the children’s school expenses.

After arriving in the United States in 1994, Sharapova’s father, Yuri, had only $700.00 in his savings. He took low-paying jobs, including dishwashing, to fund her lessons until she was old enough to be admitted to the academy. In 1995, at the age of nine, Sharapova was signed by the powerful sports agency, International Management Group, who paid her annual tuition fee, which then was $35,000.

To help Venus and Serena, Richard Williams reportedly used his business savvy skills to transport his daughters from the impoverished Compton, California to the academy. But Williams pulled the two out after deciding to train his daughters by himself.


Aspiring Black tennis players also bemoan the economic disparities for Venus and Serena, who despite their success and top rankings, lag behind their counterparts in total income, which includes lucrative endorsements deals. According to Forbes magazine, last year, Serena netted $21 million in total income, which includes prize money for winning Wimbledon and the French Open and endorsement deals.

Sharapova, who did not win any Grand Slam tournaments, still aced her rival raing in $29 million in earnings and endorsements that same year. In 2010, Sharapova signed a record a $70 million eight-year contract with Nike.

Sponsors say players like Sharapova are highly marketable because of their good looks and huge appeal to millions of Russians, Europeans and Whites fans who outnumber Blacks. Tennis, a sport that rakes in 5.3 billion according to the Tennis Industry Association has become a business.

“That’s exactly wrong with American tennis today,” said Michael Parks, whose daughters Mikayla, 14 and Alicia Parks, 12 are being compared to Venus and Serena Williams. “There’s just too much focus on money and not on talent and the player.”