By Michael Kachitsa
Tennis players take on a huge risk in deciding to turn pro – the odds of earning a stable income through tennis, let alone vast riches, are vanishingly small. Our research suggests it’s this very riskiness that drives tennis players to turn professional.
Just like gamblers, tennis players are enticed by the small possibility of a large payoff.
By our calculations an 18 year old boy ranked 100 in the world in 1997 had a less than one-thousandth of a percent (0.001%) chance of earning more than US$10 million in prize money over his tennis career. This isn’t a lot of money when you subtract the cost of competing – which averaged US$38,800 for male players and US$40,180 for female players in 2013, not including the cost of a coach.
The average career prize earnings of tennis players at around US$300,000. Around 80% of professional tennis players earn close to nothing, but there is a very wide range of values above this that people might earn – up to the US$65 million Roger Federer earned by the age of 30.
Of the 128 players that qualify for each of the four Grand Slam tournaments, the winners take home around 18% of the total prize money. Those who exit in the first round get only 0.3%. This does not factor in the sponsorships and endorsements that top-ranked players receive.
Teenagers who are ranked very highly in the world have a better chance of becoming stars as adults, but they still face a lot of uncertainty. For example, Kristian Pless was ranked number one as a junior but his highest rank as a professional was 65, and he earned just US$1.1 million in prize money over his ten-year career.
Teenagers who are ranked poorly are almost certain to make close to zero over their tennis careers. However, there remains a minuscule chance they could make it big. Our research suggests this small chance of a big payoff is why players decided to continue their tennis careers.