Last month, Emily Appleton won her 14th straight tennis match in a row in the Final of Week Two of the newly formed UK Pro League series – a league which was introduced to give the British players an opportunity to compete during a time when travel to overseas professional tournaments is heavily restricted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Emily was runner up in Week Three, winning 19/21 matches over the course of the three-week period.
Emily is 21 years old but held a racket in her hand for the very first time when she was just three. She was always a very active girl – national level at badminton and netball – but decided when she was 14 that tennis would be her chosen sport.
At that young age Emily wasn’t regarded as one of the ‘elite’ tennis players in the UK. She received a small grant from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to assist with coaching fees but has never been regarded as one of the ‘top flight’ despite reaching number 10 in the world as a junior. Emily has however not been overly impacted by this ‘underdog’ label – instead she feels that it has shaped her character and given her added levels of determination to achieve more in the game she loves.
The LTA has talked a lot in the past about the millions it has invested in the game in this country. However, very little of this money filters down to players like Emily. Much is invested in the handful of ‘top players’ and in getting more players into the game at the lowest level but the players who are striving to make a living out of their chosen sport face a real struggle. What a lot of people may not realise is that even at the lower levels, tennis is a hugely expensive sport – costing c.£70k per annum. Tennis players do not make any money from their sport until they reach the top 100 or above in the world. Players ranked between 150 and 200 only break even at best and players lower than this make a financial loss each year.
Emily won £8.5k for her recent UK Pro League exploits but her coaching fees are c.£1k per week and those costs can rise to £2k per week for overseas tournaments, when she has to cover the costs not only of her coach but also his/her travel and accommodation on top of her own. With the UK Pro League aside, prize money in tennis is particularly poor – unless of course you are in the top 100 and can play in the Grand Slam events. The winner of a $15k ITF event (the first rung on the Pro ladder), for example, only goes home with c.$1,500 as the $15k value is the prize pot for the entire event and not what goes to the winner. Take off the costs of getting to the tournament, the accommodation and the cost of the coach, and the player has a financial deficit even if they win the event!
Emily talks with great passion about her sport and has the inner drive and determination to break into the top 100. Unlike a lot of players, she is comfortable on any surface, but it was a surprise for me to hear that there are only two top class clay courts in the entire country. Grass courts are available for high level competition for only three or four weeks of the year so although a favourite surface of Emily’s it is her least used of all surfaces.
We are proud to be working with sports people of the calibre and the character of players such as Emily and she has that will to win that you can’t coach into someone. Her bubbly personality and desire to succeed will be attractive to our commercial partners.
Remember the name as I have a feeling that the successes of recent weeks are just the beginning.
Peter Varney – Chairman, Integral Sports Management
Image – Getty Images