If you're not a top-100 tennis player, you're doomed. Financially speaking, it will take you a few years to see that you are broke, you've spent all of your parents' money and you'll ask yourself why you haven't pursued a football (soccer) career instead.
Recently, it has come to my attention that there is another way to earn money playing tennis. I've been hearing of a trend that more and more European players are becoming a part of, "Tennis Leagues", emerging in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. For these players, these leagues have become a major source of income, even more than the ATP world tour.
I've known about these leagues but I've always told myself they were not for me. I am a professional. I've set myself a goal – to enter the top-100 – and these league events overlap regular tournaments, thus preventing me from accumulating ranking points. However, as I get older, the big money is attracting my attention. I ask myself whether I'm the sucker in this deal, counting ranking points all day long instead of counting money.
What is the deal here? These leagues are played in parallel to the ATP World Tour, but they have one big advantage: the money is very good and it's guaranteed, whether you win or lose. The paralyzing pressure of losing ranking points does not exist. Your payment is determined according to your ranking. A top-100 player will receive approx. 6,000 Euros for a match in the French league, a player of my ranking will be paid approx. 2,500 Euros per match (A sum I canusually earn only by completing a 5-match tournament) and a top-30 player will earn 12,000 Euros for a single match. Show me a non-slam ATP tournament that pays this well.
All the big names play in the French league. Gael Monfils, Gasquet, Tsonga, Nicolas Mahut and plenty more players ranked 100-300 in the world. Together with the German "Bundesliga "and the Italian "Seria A" (the names are the same as in the football leagues), these are leagues that pay the highest sums of money, but are also the hardest to get into. The local crowd bonds with these leagues and loves to see local players duke it out on the court. I've witnessed overfilled stadiums in French league matches.
The problem for us Israeli players is that every team can only sign up one foreign player (from outside the European Union), and usually teams prefer to sign a top-100 foreign player. So, you either have to be very good or well connected. Having said that, the minute you're on the team, you are set with a good salary for a long period of time. If people like you and you've managed to blend in the team and the local way of life, the team will renew your contract every year, just like in a football or a basketball team.
Here’s how the French league works: The league spans across five weeks and matches are held on Saturdays. When you sign a contract with a team, you need to take into account that you're committed to it just like a football player is committed to his team after signing with it. Since tour finals (in lower ranked tournaments – Futures etc.) are held on Saturdays, the leagues have a clause in the contract you sign, stating that whatever happens, you will not reach a tour final since you're obligated to appear at your team's match on Saturday morning (feel free to see this as an explanation for some of the tour's weird results).
I've played one league tournament, two years ago. All the players had very few ranking points or none at all. I made it to the Semi-Final, where I lost to an excellent player who, as it turned out, had no ranking points. When I asked this guy: "If you're so good, why aren't you playing on the pro tour?" he answered: "I signed with teams in France, Germany, Belgium and Italy, and I make approx. 80,000-100,000 Euros per annum as a result of this arrangement. All the costs are funded by the team that I'm playing for at that moment. Why should I play on the tour, so I could lose money?"
And so I ask myself, why don't I go through with it?
Europe does not own the patent on this format. There is a league in the United States called WTT – World Team Tennis. You can join this league through a draft. Unlike Europe, the WTT has no restrictions on signing foreign players but you have to be very good in order to get drafted. The priorities problem exists in the U.S just like in the EU: the league spans across 3 weeks and is played during the entire week, so that a professional tennis player needs to take into account that he can play in front of packed stadiums and make a load of money, but this will come at the cost of precious tour ranking points.
I assume that slowly but surely, we will see more and more Israeli players preferring to play in these leagues, and I'm one of them. In the end of the day, the sport is also about business. Perhaps at the age of 25, it's time for me to stop losing money every year and start earning some, just like a regular human being.
In Israel, there's a local league which I'm a part of. I play for Ramla and we've been the champions for the past 6 years. We get a salary for playing in the league but it's peanuts in comparison to the big money being spent abroad. However, perhaps there's a chance to grow and evolve: recently, we've been checking the possibility of the Ramla team joining one of the international leagues.
Who said that only Yossi Benayoun plays in European leagues?
Amir Weintraub's website - http/www.weintraubamir.com/
Translated with permission from Mr. Weintraub by http/iltennisresults.webs.com/