The curious case of a tennis player returning $81,500 US Open prize money

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American Fiona Crawley decided to return her hard-earned $81,500 US Open prize money in order not to jeopardize her eligibility to play college tennis.

Fiona Crawley

The 21-year-old Crawley plays college tennis for the North Carolina Tar Heels and is currently the No.1 women’s Division I tennis player in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, whose rules restrict athletes from receiving prize money exceeding $10,000 per year.

Crawley received a wildcard into the US Open qualifying tournament and won three matches to make the main draw, where she lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The US Open awards $81,500 to players who compete in the first round, but in order not to lose her eligibility to play college tennis, the 2023 ITA National Player of the Year decided to give back her earnings.

The tennis player said after her first-round loss:

I would never take the money and never risk my eligibility, but I worked my butt off this week and it seems unreal that there are football and basketball players making millions in NIL deals, and I can’t take the money that I worked so hard for.

In a video call with Lindsey Davis of ABC News, Crawley elaborated on the situation:

Rules are rules, and even though I feel like I do stand by what I said in my post-match interview, how I feel like I fought for that money and do deserve that money, it’s not something that I would risk for eligibility. […] It is a little bit of an identity crisis going and competing and having that experience and not being able to take the money. I don’t think that I really realized exactly what it was until I was sitting in the purser’s office looking at all of the money.

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