A number of players and coaches have been talking about the issue of lower-ranked players finding it hard to survive during this zero-income coronavirus phase, while the continuation of their tennis careers is also a big question. Among the most vocal players on the topic is singles world No.375 Sofia Shapatava of Georgia, who explains the struggles she’s currently facing and how she’ll have a hard time resuming her career when the pandemic is finally over.
From the confinement of her four-bedroom Tbilisi apartment which she shares with her parents, Sofia explained to CNN the long-known drastic disparity between the sport’s high performers and the rest, which has now only been accentuated with this COVID-19 pandemic:
Top 50 players in both the men’s and women’s rankings are 100 people … but there are 3,000 players, men and women combined, in the ranking. If 50% of tennis players quit [because] of this I don’t think tennis will survive. […] While these top players are great for the promotion of the sport, there are still 96.5% of players that also build it up. It’s also very important. It’s something that has to exist to support the sport.
The 31-year-old Shapatava, whose career-high ranking was No.186, further described her current position:
If I don’t play at all or don’t coach at all I’m not going to be able to go in July and travel to tournament and spend money on that. I have to first of all find a way to gain money and then if I find a way to do that maybe I’ll play again maybe later in the fall. No one can fly straight out to a tournament.
There’s also the mental side of this crisis, as players are questioning whether they should continue their careers:
It would be pretty hard to come back to playing. I don’t think many have it in them to come back and play like they used to, especially those who were already struggling with injury, those who already struggled financially.
Shapatava has started an online petition asking for financial help from the ITF for players lacking money to pay the bills. So far, over 2,000 people had signed the petition.
The pandemic has caused all tennis tournaments to be canceled, starting from the BNP Paribas Open in March until at least July 13th, with the addition of August’s Rogers Cup which will also definitely not take place this year. As independent contractors, tennis players earn nothing when they don’t play, which is a big problem for players in the lower echelons who live paycheck to paycheck.