In the high-earning world of top-level tennis, it would seem logical that the elite players who have won the most titles will have earned the highest prize money. However, recently released figures show this isn’t always the case – players who have won less titles often have a greater income.
There are two main reasons for this: first, prize money in recent years has rocketed, so players who have won top titles in recent history will have earned more money than those whose success was in the early part of the 21st century.
Secondly, there is still a gap between male and female players’ earnings, so the top women who have won more titles than the top men still fall behind in terms of prize money.
However, there remains a body of thought that until the women play five sets as standard – as the men do – in major tournaments, rather than their current three, a difference in prize money is acceptable. Some tournaments, such as the US Open, have started paying the same prize money to male and female winners.
Read on to find out more about five of tennis’s biggest prize winners…
1. Novak Djokovic – $109.8 million
The Serbian player is a 12-times grand slam singles champion and has a multitude of titles under his belt, including six Australian Open wins and three Wimbledon victories. He turned professional in 2003. The 30-year-old is the first Serbian player in history to be ranked number one in the ATP rankings and is the highest earner in the game. One of his biggest wins was the US Open, which he last claimed victory to in 2015, when the prize money was a record £3.7 million. Yet Djokovic has actually won fewer titles than his rival, Roger Federer, who is ranked second in terms of prize money.
2. Roger Federer – $107.7 million
The Swiss professional player has won an amazing 20 grand slam singles titles – eight more than his closest adversary Novak Djokovic – yet in terms of earnings, he is ranked second. Despite being widely recognised by many people as the greatest player of all time, 36-year-old Federer is behind the Serb in terms of earnings. Federer turned professional in 1998 and won his first grand slam in 2003. His total prize money for the first five years of his career, from 1998 to 2002 (when he ended the year ranked number six) totalled $3.7 million. This was the same amount as Djokovic had won for the 2015 US Open alone!
3. Rafael Nadal – $86.2 million
The 31-year-old Spanish player has won 16 grand slam singles titles, 10 French Open titles, two Wimbledon trophies, three US Open titles and many more. He turned professional at the age of just 15, in 2002. He won his first ATP match in April 2002, when he was 15 years and 10 months old and ranked 762nd in the world, defeating Ramón Delgado, who was 48th in the world. Nadal, now 31, suffered a wrist injury in 2014 which saw his career slide, but he made a comeback in 2016 when he won the Olympic gold.
4. Serena Williams – $84.4 million
The anomaly of earnings and the difference between male and female players’ income is illustrated by the fact Williams is the only woman in the top five earners. Yet the 36-year-old American has won three more grand slam titles than Federer, who ranks second in the highest paid player rankings. Williams has won 23 grand slam singles titles, compared with Federer’s 20, making her the record holder for the most grand slam wins in the Open Era by any player, male or female.
5. Andy Murray – $60.8 million
Scotsman Andy Murray, the 30-year-old double Olympic champion of 2012 and 2016, has also won three grand slams, two Wimbledon titles in 2013 and 2016, two Masters titles, the Davis Cup and more since turning professional in 2005. However, the former world number one has been battling his injuries in recent years. Hip surgery caused him to drop out of the ATP top 20 players’ list for the first time in a decade, when the latest rankings were revealed on 12th February. He hasn’t played competitively since Wimbledon in 2017, although he is said to be on the road to recovery and hopes to be back playing on grass this summer.
A study in 2017 revealed the gender gap in tennis earnings was starting to narrow. BBC Sport carried out the global study of all sports and found many tournaments were now following the example set by the US Open, way back in 1973, when it started paying equal prize money following a campaign by nine female players, led by tennis icon Billie Jean King.