MIAMI — Like just about every business across the world, professional tennis has taken a major financial hit during the pandemic. The sport relies heavily on ticket revenue and on-site food and retail sales, and most tournaments have had either no fans or very limited fans.
As a result, prize money has been drastically reduced.
The prize money for the Miami Open winners this year is $300,110, which is 78% less than the $1.35 million that Roger Federer and Ashleigh Barty took home in 2019.
“It’s not what we’ve been accustomed to, but at the same time we know that tournaments in the past year don’t have the ticketing revenue they’re used to having, so of course our prize money will take a hit because of that,” said American John Isner, who won the Miami Open in 2018 — the last one held in Key Biscayne — and was runner-up to Roger Federer in 2019 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Isner said he and other players would like to be more informed about how tour financial and other decisions are made.
“Of course, we’d like to be playing for a bigger purse, but it’s not just about the money,” Isner said. “There’s just a little bit of uncertainty about how those numbers came into play and why the prize money is what it is. But we’re all here to play and compete and we’re happy to be here … there are worse things going on in the world.”
Virtually all the top 50 women are entered in the Miami Open, minus Serena Williams, who withdrew following oral surgery. The men’s field features six of the eight Australian Open quarterfinalists, but is missing Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka and some other top 50 players.
The postponement of the tournament at Indian Wells, Calif., left the Miami Open as a standalone U.S. event, and Isner said that — more than the reduced prize money — is the likely reason some of the European players chose to skip it.
“The calendar has taken a hit, so you don’t have these back-to-back events (Indian Wells, Miami). It’s gone to kind of one standalone Masters event in America,” Isner said. “So, for the top players in Europe, I guess it’s understandable. Maybe in the current climate we’re in, it doesn’t fit their schedule too well with Rafa and Roger and Novak and Thiem, all the guys that are out.
“I guess it’s a big commitment to come over here for just one tournament, then immediately go back over to Europe. For the older guys, the three I mentioned, the three greatest players we’ve ever seen, probably doesn’t make sense for them. I think the main reason why players aren’t here is because this is just a standalone event. It’s not necessarily about the prize money. It’s just more of a scheduling conflict.”
The women’s calendar includes events in Charleston, S.C., after Miami.
Despite the restrictions, Isner said players are having fun. They are especially enjoying having use of the full football field inside the stadium. In 2019, a center court was erected in the stadium, but it is not there this year, so players are playing pickup soccer and football.
“In 2019, the player experience being at the Hard Rock, the amount of room to warm up, stretch and be on the field was incredible and even more so this year because the the whole football field is ours,” Isner said. “So, it’s pretty cool to go out there and throw the football around and run some routes and pretend like you’re playing in the NFL. The player experience here has been excellent.”
Isner has been playing quarterback with Sam Querrey and Stevie Johnson as receivers. “It’s mostly the American guys,” he said. “We’re not the ones kicking the soccer ball around, that’s for sure.
“I’ve always liked playing here. It’s been a two-year break. It’s unfortunate we don’t have the Miami fans in full force. Everything has been different, but at least we do have some fans in the stands to provide a neat little atmosphere and we look forward to playing in front of them.”
Among Wednesday’s winners: American Danielle Collins, who beat Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-3, 6-3; Andrea Petkovic of Germany defeated Shuai Zhang of China 7-5, 6-1; and Marcos Giron, who beat fellow American Tommy Paul 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.