The U.S. Open is underway and more than 300 of the world’s best tennis players are be competing for the chance to win $44 million in prize money, including $3 million each for the male and female singles champions.
For most of them, it could be the difference between a money-losing year and a profitable one. The global pandemic hit tennis especially hard as it’s a global sport that requires a lot of international travel. And financially, tennis players are essentially independent contractors, with no team to fall back on in tough times. In response, the sport has established a Player Relief Fund to distribute more than $6 million to help 800 struggling pros deal with the absence of prize money.
But the top of the pile players have none of the concerns of the lower ranks. Consider Roger Federer, the 39-year-old Swiss,, who isn’t competing in the 2020 Open as he recovers from a pair of knee surgeries, once again lands at No. 1 on the Forbes ranking of the highest-paid tennis players with pre-tax earnings of $106.3 million between June 2019 and June 2020. Not only is Federer—for the 15th straight year—the world’s highest-earning tennis player, but he is also the top-earning athlete on the planet – despite playing in only ten ATP tournaments during our scoring period and winning two of them.
So where does the money come from? Endorsements. Most tennis endorsement contracts are built on low guarantees with bonuses for tournament performances and world rankings. A Grand Slam win can trigger a seven-figure bonus. In contrast, there are reductions when players don’t meet minimum play requirements, due to injury — or a pandemic. But the biggest stars lock in huge guarantees and are largely immune to the reductions. Federer has earned more than 95% of his income off the court this year. The 20-time Slam champ split from sneaker giant Nike in 2018 and signed a ten-year deal with Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo. The deal clincher: Uniqlo promised $300 million whether he was playing tennis or not.
Novak Djokovic, No. 2 on the list, earned $44.6 million, 72% of it being from endorsements and appearance fees. Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s player, contracted Covid-19 in June but plans to play in New York next week.No. 3 Rafael Nadal won’t, citing Covid concerns. Nadal earned $40 million, 65% off the court. In all, the top ten players pocketed a combined $340 million, up from $312 million last year.
- Roger Federer – $106.3M ($6.3M = Prize Money / $100M = Endorsements)
- Novak Djokovic – $44.6M ($12.6M = Prize Money / $32M = Endorsements)
- Rafael Nadal – $40M ($14M = Prize Money / $26M = Endorsements)
- Naomi Osaka – $37.4M ($3.4M = Prize Money / $34M = Endorsements)
- Serena Williams – $36M ($4M = Prize Money / $32M = Endorsements)