By Alexandra Willis
26 January 2011
The cost of raising the next Rafael Nadal or Maria Sharapova has been estimated to be over $400,000, according to a report by Bloomberg. Based on the example of 12-year-old Mia Smith, whose parents have sold their house in order to send their daughter to the prestigious $68,495-a year Bollettieri Academy in Florida, the report suggests that the prohibitive cost of raising a champion has led to a decline in the number of successful teenagers in the game.
Mia, who was spotted by Bollettieri and urged to join the academy, moved with her mother Dawn to Florida last year, leaving father Chris to sell their house in Tunbridge Wells. “If we hadn’t given her this chance, we’d have always looked and said ‘What if?,” Mrs Smith told Bloomberg.
The sacrifice made by the Smiths to give their daughter the best possible chance of making it as a pro has been backed up by two of the world’s wealthiest tennis federations, the USTA in America and the LTA in the UK. Not only that, once the player is old enough to begin training and competing, it will be some years before they earn enough to start to cancel out the debt.
The best tennis players, of the Roger Federer and Nadal ilk earn millions of pounds a year, but those players ranked outside the top 100 struggle considerably to make a living, meaning that a parent’s investment is far from certain to pay off.
Patrick McEnroe, who runs the USTA’s player development, is encouraging players to seek scholarships to colleges rather than throw themselves onto the professional tour before they are ready. “Even if you have all the talent and all the ability in the world, at 17, 18 you just don’t have the physicality to make it week in, week out,” McEnroe said in an interview. “You get a degree and you play college tennis, which is a really fun environment. You can work on your game without the ‘I have to put food on the table’ pressure that comes with the tour.”
If a player decides not to go down the college route, and is not backed by their association, they need to resort to private funding from sponsors, an avenue that the Smiths are having to explore. ““It’s not like we have an endless supply of funds to keep it going,” Mrs Smith told Bloomberg. “I wanted to
demonstrate that we are committed and maybe somebody else will help out as well. Hopefully, it doesn’t come across that we’re deluded.”