Few weeks back I wrote a blog titled, “Why I wouldn’t sponsor a tennis player”. I gave reasons why it is a risky decision to invest in a tennis player and how hard it is for one to get to a level where he or she can make any money. I will once again clarify that, I am not against professional tennis or players. I am all for players going on the pro tour, and I’ll say that my own very brief experience of the tour so far has been one that I will always look back at with joy and no regrets – even though it has shrunk my bank balance by half in a matter of weeks.

I got a bit of negative feedback from some people on that blog. It was negative in the sense that they could sense negativity and pessimism in my writing. It probably did have that feel. I wrote it a few hours after losing a match playing badly. I was upset and it probably showed in my writing. However, I don’t think the content would have been different had I won the match or if I wasn’t even in a tournament because I do feel that way. I think I was being very realistic about the demands of the tour, especially financial.

Recent study by the governing body of international tennis, the ITF, supports my case. My brother forwarded the report with the research findings to me a few days back, which is after I wrote the original blog. I will just share the major points to convey my thoughts more clearly.

In 2013 there were 8874 male professional players, 3896 of whom earned no prize money.

In 2013 average costs for playing professional tennis [includes flights, accommodation, food, restringing, laundry, clothing, equipment and airport transfers but not including coaching costs] were $38,800 for male players.

 In 2013 total men’s prize money was approximately $162m. An even distribution would provide every male player that earned prize money with $32,638. In that year the top 1% of male players (top 50) won 60% ($97,448,106), which reduced the even distribution average down to $13,195.

The break-even point on the earnings list (i.e. the point where average costs met actual earnings) was 336 for men.

 In nominal terms total prize money in the men’s and women’s game has risen since 2001. This is due in the main to a significant increase in the number of competitive opportunities (tournaments) around the world and introduction of certain new tournament categories (W-$15k, $100k and $125k, M-$35k)

This increase has been countered (in terms of earnings per player) by an increase in the number of players competing for the total prize money pool.

(Taken from the ITF website)

About 40% of the people who played professional tennis in the year 2013 made no money whatsoever.  May be they didn’t spend $38,000 either. Good chance they played only a few tournaments close to where they lived. At the same time, there is a good chance they spent more than $38,000. I have friends who are very good players, very capable, but haven’t been able to qualify for a singles future’s main draw in more than 20 attempts. They are not six tournaments a year kind of players. They play more than 20 a year and train full time, pay a coach and trainer. Beats me how some of them with such talent and professionalism haven’t been able to qualify and earn any prize money. Anyways, the point is that a lot of these people with zero income are among those $38,000 a year spenders.

This figure doesn’t include coaching costs. That I think is because a lot of players wouldn’t want to disclose how much they spend and coaches wouldn’t to make public their incomes. They have different arrangements with different players. I know people who pay their coaches $800 a month, I know players who spend $5,000 a month at the top academies in the world and I know people who don’t pay anyone. They coach, work, save money for part of the year and spend it all on their tennis tours the rest of the year. Those are the ones that do it for the love of the game. I’m sort of doing the same.

Tying in with this, the break-even point would be different if the research included the coaching cost in that $38,000. The break-even point with this amount was at a world ranking of 336. Meaning, if you’re number 336 in the world you’re making the same amount of money as you’re spending. No profit, no loss.

If you add $10,000 of coaching cost, which is being very nice to coaches, to the total, that takes it up to $48,000. With that amount, the break-even point would rise up to around 260. A friend of mine, the Slovenian guy who beat me in Turkey, is top 300. He does not break even. In fact, he casually told me he is in a debt of $5,000 this year where he won eight futures tournaments, one short of the world record.

Then I asked him, “Why do you do it?” To which he said, “Look at me, isn’t this life great?”

We were sitting at the pool bar at the Sierra hotel in Sharm, Egypt, wearing tennis t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, surrounded by date trees and joyous tourists, some playing darts, others swimming and many sunbathing – we had drinks in our hands (soft), music was playing all around, a gentle trickle of the pool waterfall could be heard in the background.

His words sounded great. I looked around then looked back at him and nodded.

Then he said, “I’m doing this, and there are guys sitting in a room, behind a desk, listening to their bosses all day.”

I agreed, “True.” But then I said, “But that guy is actually making some money, you know? And you’re losing money”

He didn’t quite have an answer to that. So his Austrian coach intervened and said, “Yeah but in two years he will be in the top 100, I’m sure of this, and then he’ll be making money! After that, who knows how high he goes.”

So far though, he was in debt. He tried to make his life sound glorious, and it did sound and look glorious to me and so did mine, but I wish while we were living that glorious moment, we weren’t losing money. Not him at least, he’s 280 in the world. He won the tournament last week.

This isn’t to scare kids away from tennis. I do this to inform people, who are unaware of what goes into becoming a pro tennis player. To make them realize how much respect and honor they deserve. These guys we watch on TV made it through these tough, rugged tracks and now are on the grand avenues. I have so much respect for them for keeping at it because nobody just steamrolls through those back streets. I can bet it wasn’t easy for any single one of them, no matter how gifted they were.

Same is the case in every sport I’m sure but, I don’t think any other athlete spends hundreds of thousands of dollars before making it on TV. It is literally hundreds of thousands. That’s not me saying, it’s the International Tennis Federation.

Abid Akbar is a former Under-18 national champion, a scholar-athlete at the university of Idaho, the assistant coach of his alma mater's tennis program and currently a professional tennis player