By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) – Financial aid has slowly trickled in for tennis players in the lower echelons of the sport during the COVID-19 shutdown but the vast majority of men and women who coach them for a living have been left to fend for themselves.
Some, like Simona Halep’s coach Darren Cahill, continue to be paid for their work but the Australian acknowledges he is one of the lucky ones and that more help needs to be extended for those who are such a key part of a player’s success.
“I know I’m privileged because I work with a great player, and Simona has always looked after me and still does,” he told Reuters from Adelaide.
“So I’m one of the lucky ones but I know that I’m one of the few. In the main draw of men’s or women’s tournaments there are 128 players (and) there might be 100 coaches that turn up in those tournaments.
“The vast majority of those coaches have made nothing through this period, and it’s been incredibly tough.”
In May, tennis governing bodies said they raised over $6 million to help about 800 singles and doubles players, while the International Tennis Federation, which runs the feeder circuit for the men’s ATP and women’s WTA tours, added another $350,000 for those ranked between 501-700.
But there has been little help for coaches.
The ITF has made a range of learning resources on its academy platform available for free during the shutdown while the ATP Tour announced an initiative this week that will give fans the chance to bid for sessions with top coaches.
Funds raised from the sessions will go to the tour’s Coaches Committee to support its members.
MORE VALUED, SHOWCASED
Cahill appreciates that governing bodies must first look after the players but says the plight of coaches during the pandemic should not be ignored.
“I think there are other ways to certainly help the coaches,” said Cahill.
“And that’s through raising the profile of the coaches so there are more off-court opportunities.
“We’ve spoken about this many, many times and this is going to be a big issue moving forward.”
The tours should at least resolve the long-standing issue of providing insurance for coaches when they travel to tournaments, he added.
Patrick Mouratoglou, the long-time coach of 23-times Grand Slam singles winner Serena Williams, says many people are unaware that most coaches are not paid salaries but receive fees based on prize money and other factors.
“I know that a lot of coaches have been financially struggling during this confinement period and most of them don’t have any money on the side,” he said by telephone from France.
“I think (coaches) should be a little bit more valued and showcased during the matches.”
Cahill, who guided Lleyton Hewitt to the top of the game and has also worked with Andre Agassi, said coaches were usually in a very different position to their players away from the court and depended on regular income.
“Our lives are in a little bit of a different place to what a player’s life is because most coaches have families, you are putting kids through school,” said Cahill.
“You have medical expenses, whatever it might be. So we rely on that income to keep our lives ticking over, and there’s been no recourse for us.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)