Sampras' net gains

John Roberts looks at the man about to set a new standard in tennis prize earnings
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The Independent Online
Win or lose his first round match against Patrick McEnroe at the $6m Compaq Grand Slam Cup in Munich on Wednesday, Pete Sampras will supersede Ivan Lendl as the biggest prize winner in tennis history, having netted a breathtaking career total of $21,696,928 (pounds 14,464,618).

All Sampras has to do is turn up and play as competitors in the 16-man draw are each guaranteed $100,000 for their opening match. In addition, the winners of the year's four Grand Slam singles championships share a bonus of $1m of which Sampras will bag half, having triumphed at both Wimbledon and the United States Open.

The $600,000 will put the 24-year-old Sampras $434,511 ahead of Lendl, who totalled career prize money of $21,262,417 before retiring a year ago, aged 34.

However, prize money from official tournaments represents only a portion of the fortunes to be earned by leading players, depending on their marketability. Tennis clothing and equipment contracts are offered at the first sign of potential and, in common with other commercial activities, become increasingly lucrative for the successful. Exhibition matches provide another handy source of extra income.

Andre Agassi's garb on court may make him look like a designer tramp, but his contract with Nike is reportedly worth $10m per year, projected over 10 years. The 25-year-old Las Vegas man stands ninth in the table of official career prize money, with $11,276,443.

Martina Navratilova, who retired last year aged 38, is the biggest ever prize money winner in the women's game, with $20,337,902. When it came to endorsements, advertising, and other off-court earnings, however, Navratilova's great rival, Chris Evert, is believed to have done considerably better in multiplying her career prize money total of $8,896,195.

When Rod Laver and Billie Jean King won pounds 2,000 and pounds 750 respectively as singles champions at the first open Wimbledon 27 years ago, they could not have imagined that the total prize money for the tournament would grow from pounds 26,150 in 1968 to pounds 6,025,550 this year, or that the All England Club's profits would rise from pounds 1m in 1981 to pounds 27.9m in each of the past two years.

However, although the sport in general has continued to prosper in spite of the recession of the 1990s, the women's game has shown signs of strain. The arrival of a new WTA Tour sponsor, Corel, a Canadian computer software company, may alleviate the situation overall, but the players are upset that the organisers of next month's Australian Open have forsaken their policy of equal prize money with the men, except in the case of the singles champion.

A Grand Slam Cup for women has yet to take shape, otherwise Steffi Graf might have eclipsed everybody in terms of prize money after so far winning $17,180,610.

Should Sampras triumph in the Grand Slam Cup in Munich, he will leave with a total of $2m, as he did when the bonanza was inaugurated in 1990 - the brainchild of a German entrepreneur, Axel Mayer-Wolden, who saw it as a way for the Grand Slam Committee and the International Tennis Federation to deliver a riposte to the breakaway ATP Tour.

In addition to the Munich prize money, the organisers donate $2m each year to the Grand Slam Development Fund, which supports tennis in the Third World.

Initially however, some top players, notably Boris Becker and Andre Agassi, considered the event to be an elaborate exhibition designed to upstage the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt. Germany had developed into the sport's financial hub as a result of the unparalleled interest generated by the advent of Becker and Graf.

Determined to persuade each of the four Grand Slam champions to participate in Munich, the organisers decided, in 1993, to distribute the prize money differently, offering a share of $1m from the purse as an incentive, known as the Grand Slam Champions Award. However, Jim Courier, the 1993 Australian Open champion, declined to cross the Atlantic from his home in Florida to collect his $250,000.

Sampras has already amassed $4,631,250 from the Grand Slam Cup, while the ever-present Michael Chang has won $2,9962,500 without ever taking the first prize.

The event has allowed many players to profit beyond their previous expectations. Brad Gilbert won $1m as the runner-up to Sampras in 1990 after substituting for the injured Agassi, to whom he is now coach.

In 1991, David Wheaton won the $2m first prize, but the American has been unable to reproduce similar form in any of the four Grand Slams tournaments since. The Czech Petr Korda was a spectacular champion in 1993, and Sweden's Magnus Larsson defeated Sampras in last year's final to earn by far his greatest pay day.

Meanwhile, this week's first beneficiary looks to be Byron Black, of Zimbabwe. The US Open quarter-finalist will add at least $100,000 to his account after happily agreeing to substitute for the injured Agassi.

LEADING CAREER PRIZE-MONEY EARNERS MEN: 1 I Lendl (US) $21,262,417 (pounds 14,174,944); 2 P Sampras (US) $21,096,928; 3 S Edberg (Swe) $19,997,804; 4 B Becker (Ger) $19,097,145; 5 J McEnroe (US) $12,539,622; 6 M Chang (US) $11,729,210; 7 J Courier (US) $11,655,133; 8 M Stich (Ger) $11,479,621; 9 A Agassi (US) $11,276,443; 10 G Ivanisevic (Croa) $10,115,295.

WOMEN: 1 M Navratilova (US) $20,337,902; 2 S Graf (Ger) $17,180,610; 3 A Sanchez Vicario (Sp) $9,774,532; 4 C Evert (US) $8,896,195; 5 G Sabatini (Arg) $8,607,800; 6 M Seles (US) $7,805,991; 7 H Sukova (Cz Rep) $5,527,088; 8 P Shriver (US) $5,384,316; 9 C Martinez (Sp) $5,237,865; 10 J Novotna (Cz Rep) $5,218,358.

These are all earnings from official prize money alone, excluding earnings from exhibition matches, sponsorships and endorsements.