- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001

F or Tim Henman, it was a pittance. For Jan Vacek, it was anything but.
Following Henman's five-set victory over Vacek in the first round of the U.S. Open yesterday, both players pocketed $10,500, the standard payout for playing in the round of 128.
Though the cash meant relatively little to No. 9 seed Henman, a top-10 player who has earned more than $650,000 in prize money this season, it was a certifiable boon for his opponent.
A qualifier ranked No. 107 in the tour's entry system, Vacek boosted his year-to-date tour winnings of $55,736 by nearly a fifth a hefty score for an afternoon's work.
"Beating Henman would have been a great success," Vacek said. "But it's good money for me."
And not just for Vacek. Of the 16 qualifiers in the men's half of the Open draw, only two have earned more than $100,000 in prize money this season.
For the rest and for hundreds of other average tour players tennis is hardly a ticket to Henman-like fortune, let alone the nearly $5 million won by ATP top gun Gustavo Kuerten last season.
Instead, it's a lot like life for the rest of us: An ongoing battle to make ends meet.
"I really don't think that [the lifestyle on tour] is that glamorous," said Cecil Mamiit, ranked No. 106 in the entry system and a loser in Open qualifying last week. "There are hundreds of football players and baseball players that have a lot of glamour, money, things like that. But in tennis, maybe 20 players have that luxury. For the rest of us, it's always a struggle."
Indeed, money is a perpetual concern for the typical pro. While 37 players earned more than $500,000 in prize money last season, those outside the top 100 made substantially less.
Mamiit, who finished last year ranked No. 129 in the ATP Champions Race, pulled in $113,826. Argentina's Diego Moyano, No. 200, earned $41,784.
Frenchman Oliver Mutis, the 244th best tennis player in the world, made just $20,890.
That's roughly $2,000,000 less than No. 6 Andre Agassi and barely better than minimum wage.
"If you're in the top 120, you can make a decent living, and in the top 100, you can make pretty good money," said Michael Joyce, ranked No. 235 in the entry system and a loser in Open qualifying last week. "But it's such a fine line because if you're ranked like 150 to 200, you're not really making anything."
Joyce, who's made $26,061 this season, knows what he's talking about. In 1996, the 10-year tour veteran rose to No. 64 in the entry system, earning almost $260,000 for the year.
"And I probably kept about 150,000 to 200,000 of that," Joyce said. "If you can do that every year, you're doing pretty decent. But the last year or two, I've basically made enough to cover my expenses. And there are hundreds of guys below me. I don't know how they do it."
It certainly isn't easy. According to Ronald Agenor, a 36-year-old veteran who was once ranked No. 22 in the world, a single season on tour can cost more than $100,000.
"It's really an expensive sport," Agenor said. "It's an easy life only if you're in the top 50."
While players in the top 50 are virtually guaranteed a spot in the main draw of any given tournament and the first-round money that goes with it most pros aren't as fortunate. More often than not, they have to earn their spot through a weekend qualifying draw, an expensive proposition in its own right.
To reach the main draw of this year's Legg Mason Classic, Joyce, a Los Angeles native, had to pay his own way to Washington, then slug his way through a 28-player qualifying bracket to earn a first-round payout of $2,450.
Agenor wasn't as lucky. A loser to Wayne Black in final round of qualifying, he also took a financial hit. The reason? Tournaments only provide a full week of food and housing for players in the main draw.
"Qualifiers only get two nights paid for, whereas in the main draw you get five to seven nights," Mamiit said. "And if you lose in the qualifying, you've got to stay there the rest of the week and practice for the next week's tournament. So you're spending more money."
When it comes to supplemental income, no-name players are largely shut out. While established stars and promising up-and-comers are showered with sponsorships and sizable appearance fees up to six figures for a player of Agassi's stature everyone else is lucky to get free gear.
Currently, Joyce doesn't have a single endorsement deal. Last year, Mamiit starred in a K-Swiss commercial and wasn't paid a dime for it.
"If you're young or the top guy in your country, you get [endorsements]," said Mamiit, who won the NCAA singles championship at Southern California before turning pro in 1996. "But when you're reaching the middle of your career, the sponsors get more reluctant. I was just happy for the exposure."
So how do rank-and-file pros get by? Any way they can. Open qualifier Eric Taino has earned more than half of his $51,797 year-to-date prize money through doubles play. Mamiit still lives with his parents. Joyce no longer travels with a coach, saving himself more than $20,000 a year.
"If I still did that, I'd surely be behind," Joyce said. "I've kind of cut down on things. You have to watch what you spend your money on."
Before the Legg Mason, Joyce played in a minor league Challenger tournament in Binghamton, N.Y. Rather than fly to Washington the preferred mode of travel for the tour's top players Joyce hit the open road.
"It was a $600 ticket for a US Airways puddle jumper," he said. "So I rented a car instead. It was a six-hour drive. Stuff like that is the kind of thing the top guys don't have to worry about."
Such is life in the separate and unequal world of workaday tennis pros, a parallel universe that owes less to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" than "Weakest Link."
During the 1998 Legg Mason tournament, Joyce ruptured a tendon in his left wrist. Though the injury lingered for more than a year, he was back on the court in less than six months, suffering a first-round loss at Memphis in February of 1999.
His reward? A cool and much-needed $2,540.
"A guy like [Pete] Sampras or Agassi, they're set for life," Joyce said. "They get hurt, they can sit back and wait until they're 100 percent healthy. They'll still get wild cards.
"But I was chomping at the bit to get back. I had bills to pay."

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