Tennis foot soldiers struggle in time of coronavirus

Monday, March 30th, 2020 00:00 |
Georgian player Sofia Shapatava one of the lower ranked players by WTA. Photo/FILE

Paris, Sunday

With careers spent scratching around dusty outposts, sometimes with “just $100 (Sh10,000)” in their pockets, tennis’ unheralded army of foot soldiers claim they are struggling to afford food after being made unemployed overnight by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, Georgian player Sofia Shapatava is pleading with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to dig deep and help out the hundreds of players who lost their livelihoods when the men’s and women’s tours went into a three-month lockdown.

“Players lower ranked than 250 will not be able to buy food in two-three weeks’ time,” warned Shapatava, who is not optimistic the ITF will look favourably on her plea.

“I honestly don’t think so,” she told AFP.

“They replied that their plate is full and they will come back to me as soon as they can. But after that email they did not reply with anything.”

Shapatava, the world number 371, is a 16-year veteran of the tour.

But she plays mostly secondary ITF events, a world away from the gilded Grand Slam world inhabited by multi-millionaires Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Shapatava has banked $354,000 (Sh35.4 million) in career prize money from almost 1,500 singles and doubles matches. Barely $3,000 (Sh300,000) has come her way since the turn of the year after events in Andrezieux-Bouthion in France, Midland in Michigan, Nicholasville in Kentucky and the Californian venue of Rancho Sante Fe.

However, compared to many, the 31-year-old is well-off. There are comfortably over 1,000 players in the WTA rankings. The men’s ATP Tour has just as many.

Amongst a batch of women currently locked in the lowest rank of 1,283 is 27-year-old Ksenia Kolesnikova of Russia. In 2020, she has officially made just $68 (Sh6,800).

Many players outside the lucrative top 100 traditionally supplement their meagre incomes by coaching or playing in European club leagues.

‘Sport will die’ 

However, those reliable revenue streams dried up after governments worldwide banned large gatherings to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

“I started the petition to help tennis players to be heard by ITF, after I talked to many of the people I know and about their plans for the next three months and I realised that some people won’t even be able to have food,” claimed Shapatava in her online blog. -AFP

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