A lot of budding tennis players will dream of becoming a professional one day.
The thought of playing in front of massive crowds at some of the world’s greatest courts is a very appealing idea indeed.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to play the sport they love, in front of millions of adoring fans whilst getting paid very handsomely for the privilege?
Well, whilst this sounds like the stuff of dreams, it is only a reality for a small handful of the game’s elite.
So, the question of ‘how much do tennis players earn?’, is not a one size fits all situation.
Whilst it may seem that the majority of tennis players we see will be earning more than enough to have a very comfortable, if not luxurious lifestyle, this is not the case for the vast majority.
Sure, if a player has been inside the top 50 in the world for a number of years they may well be able to earn a decent living.
But, the amount of financial sacrifice that it took to get there can often outweigh the so-called ‘high flying’ tennis players’ lifestyle.
Of course, how much a tennis player will earn depends greatly on the level they are competing at, and you know what they say… success breeds success.
Being a professional tennis player can be a very steep upwards or downwards spiral.
For those at the very top of the game like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, multi million dollar brand deals, endorsements, prize money cheques and appearance fees are the norm.
For these legends of the game, it can seem all too easy to make astronomical amounts of money.
But, it is worth noting that all of these players started off in the exact same way as any other tennis player, playing tournaments as a junior, working their way up the rankings and eventually being the best in the world.
However, for the vast majority of players this dream does not become a reality.
Yes, they may make a reasonable living and get to travel the world as a professional athlete.
But, their journey will start off in the exact same way as the greats of the game, with the same sacrifices and risks involved.
With all that being said, let’s take a closer look into how much tennis players actually earn, at different levels of success in the sport.
How Tennis Players Make Their Money
As you can imagine, the prize money a tennis player will earn can vary greatly depending on the level of tournament they are playing.
In tennis, prize money increases exponentially, with a first round loss at Wimbledon paying out as much as many players will make in an entire year travelling the world.
The futures and challengers events are of course much less well paid than the main ATP Tour events, due to the lower level of competition, less media coverage and sponsorship exposure.
Therefore, most players will need to win at least a few rounds to break even, or even reach, say a quarter or semi final to turn even a modest profit.
Most players agree that a ranking of at least 250 in the world in the men’s game is required to breakeven consistently across a year, and this is higher in the women’s game.
Therefore, in such a competitive sport is it increasingly difficult to actually make any money at all, let alone a decent living.
In terms of the highest paid tennis players out there, the majority of their money is made through endorsements and brand deals.
This is by far the largest proportion of their annual earnings, surpassing their on court earnings from prize money in a lot of cases!
For example, in 2019 Roger Federer made a grand total of $110 million, but only $6.4 million of that came from actual on court earnings.
Therefore, the vast majority of his insane income came from brand deals, endorsements and sponsorships.
However, as you move lower down the rankings, this drops off significantly, with endorsement deals making up a smaller and smaller percentage of a player’s total earnings.
This is simply due to the lack of exposure these athletes will be getting compared to say players in the top 10.
A lower ranked player may get free equipment or rackets themselves, but would be unlikely to be paid much for using a specific brand as there simply isn’t a great return on investment for the brands themselves.
Realistically, a player who is competing in challenger or futures tournaments will not be seen by anywhere near as many people as those playing at grand slams regularly.
Therefore, the companies supplying their equipment are unlikely to gain many additional sales by paying one of these lower ranked players to use their products.
Also, the demographic of tennis fans is generally quite affluent, making them profitable to market to.
Some of the top players in the world will actually charge appearance fees to play at certain smaller tournaments.
This is another way in which they can maximise their income, as they are effectively capitalising on the sell out crowds, sponsorship revenue and TV income generated as a result of them playing the event.
Obviously, only the absolute top players can justify doing this, but it is another revenue stream they can use to boost their income.
How Much Tennis Players Earn
So, we have discussed the different ways in which tennis players can earn their money.
It is clear that there is a massive disparity between the highest paid tennis players and the average journeyman.
Therefore, it makes sense to take a look at what tennis players earn at different levels in the rankings.
As a player sitting near the very top of the rankings, you will be in the spotlight, earning millions.
Whilst it is well documented that it takes an unbelievable amount of hard graft, dedication and professionalism over a number of painstaking years to get to the very top of the sport, the rewards can definitely be worth the effort.
Players in the top 5 and even in the top 10 will commonly earn 7 or 8 figure sums per year, especially if they have been playing at this level consistently.
This is where the most lucrative brand deals are landed and players can really cash in on their talents.
Pay in this region can range anywhere from around $1 million per year to $100 million per year in the most exceptional cases.
For a player consistently ranked in the world’s top 50, it is not uncommon for them to be earning 6 figure sums.
Given that they will likely have some lower level endorsement deals, be a few rounds at the grand slams consistently and winning multiple titles throughout their career, it is common for players at this level to earn between $100k and $1 million per year.
Whilst this is quite a large range, players in the top 50 may even float in and out of the top 15 in the rankings from time to time, where they can reach the latter stages of grand slams and even land themselves a high paying endorsement deal off the back of a deep run.
This is a very comfortable place to be in the world of tennis, but it is also incredibly competitive and many of these players will have to work just as hard as players earning multi millions per year in order to maintain their place in the rankings.
Players in the top 250 in the world will be generally struggling to break even or even turn a small profit from playing tennis professionally.
It is likely that they will be playing tennis full time, but they will not often get any sort of additional payment from brands or equipment sponsors.
They will often get some free merchandise and perhaps some of their travel or accommodation expenses paid for.
However, they will be primarily relying on prize money earned from playing and winning tournaments to find their career.
This can be a difficult place to end up, as a poor run of form can stop a player from competing on the tour indefinitely.
It is not uncommon for players to make less than $50k per year in the top 250 in the rankings.
And, whilst this may sound like a very respectable wage, this does not take into account the $30k-$40k in expenses that a player will almost certainly incur from playing the tournaments to earn this money in the first place.
It is clear to see that playing tennis professionally can be an incredibly lucrative career choice for the game’s elite.
The millions that can be made in sponsorships deals and endorsements, not to mention prize money at the latter stages of the grand slams is inspirational.
However, as players slip lower and lower down the rankings, this money quickly dries up and the average professional tennis player will often struggle to break even across a year.
Therefore, considering the immense physical, social and financial sacrifice that is required to play tennis at the highest levels, it is often simply not viable for a player to compete on the professional circuit.
The highest paying prize money and brand deals are often reserved only for the game’s elite, which makes being the average tennis player a fairly low paying job.