- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001


NEW YORK Think no-name tennis pros have an easy life? Think again. While stars like Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras traffic in overstuffed wealth and outsized fame, most players enjoy a decidedly less glamorous existence:

Tiring travel One week it's Dubai. The next it's Delray Beach. This season, the ATP will hold a total of 64 tournaments not counting the Grand Slams across 31 countries on six continents.
For Joe Pro, that means a whole lot of frequent flier miles and bucketload of exhaustion to boot.
"In golf, the PGA is only in the [United] States," 36-year-old tour veteran Ronald Agenor said. "In the NBA, you fly home after every game. But in tennis, you're in Europe, the United States, Asia.
"It's a big sacrifice. That's why a lot of players retire at 30 they've been traveling all over the world since they were 17, 18 years old. And they're tired of it."

Maddening minors Players ranked outside the top 100 in the ATP's tournament entry system earn much of their income on the Challenger circuit. Played in cities like Tulsa, Okla., and Little Rock, Ark., Challenger events are the tennis equivalent of Class A baseball, far removed from the cushy, masseuse-and-luxury-suite atmosphere that typifies the Slams.
"I played a tournament in Waco, Texas, and it was hot as [heck]," said Michael Joyce, a 10-year tour veteran ranked No. 235 in the entry system. "You're calling your own lines. If you lose in the first round, you win like 100 bucks or something. You pay for your hotel, share the room with a couple of other guys."
After compiling a 24-11 mark in Challenger play last season, Cecil Mamiit can relate.
"[Challengers] are rough," said Mamiit, ranked No. 106 in the entry system. "You have to live so cheaply. They give you one can of balls for the week. Towels, they provide. Water, they'll give you a jug. You have to fill it up yourself."

Killer qualifying There's only one way to earn a slice of the ATP's $58.6 million prize money pie: Play in the main draw of the major league tournaments. And for workaday players, that means beating each other's brains out in pre-tournament qualifiers.
At this year's U.S. Open, 128 hungry players battled for 16 berths in the main draw; 112 of them, including Rockville native Paul Goldstein, went home empty.
"The guys in qualifying are usually fighting much harder," Joyce said. "And the level [of play] is not that much different. It's usually young guys coming up guys who will be great players in a few years or guys who have been great players and are coming off injuries."

No pain, no gain Rank-and-file ATP players can't afford to be injured. Literally. In early 1999, Mamiit knocked off Agassi and Michael Chang en route to the finals of the Sybase Open, pushing his ranking to a career-high No. 85 and picking up knee tendinitis to boot.
Despite throbbing pain and increasingly spotty results, Mamiit soldiered on for nearly two years. The reason? When he eventually took a two-month break last winter, his ranking dropped more than 30 points.
"You know if you stop, you'll lose your ranking," Mamiit said. "So I kept on playing, hoping it would get better."

And you are? Above all, workaday players must suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous anonymity. At this year's Legg Mason Classic, Joyce was almost denied access to a practice court he had reserved before a match.
"I had a court reserved for 2 o'clock," he said. "Agassi and Chang were playing on it. I know them pretty well, so a few minutes after 2 o'clock, I go to the court. And a security guy pushes me out of the way.

"He's like, 'You can't go on the court until they leave.' I tell him I'm warming up for a match. I got into a big argument with the guy and had to push my way in. Stuff like that would never happen to the top guys. But I'm used to it."


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