sport

Goodall feeling the pinch

British number two Josh Goodall may call time on his tennis career next summer because of the financial pressures of the professional game.

The millions of pounds earned each year by the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova are the glamorous side of the game, but for most players the realities are very different.

There are 229 places in the rankings between Murray and Goodall, and, while the world number three can take a well-earned rest in his Surrey mansion, his nearest domestic rival is simply determined that this time he will keep the deposit he has saved to buy a flat.

Goodall, 27, has saved the money before but he has always had to dip into it to fund a career that involves being on the road for large chunks of the year and the vast expense that comes with that.

It has been a positive year for Goodall, who has climbed more than 200 places since last summer and stood in for Murray as British number one at the Davis Cup tie against Belgium in April.

Trying to match the success he has had on the third-tier Futures Tour at the next level, the Challenger Tour, has been a bit of a struggle, but he remains optimistic.

Goodall certainly does not want to give up the career he and his family worked hard to make a reality. His parents remortgaged their house five times to fund his tennis, but he knows tough decisions may have to be made.

"A year and a half ago I was really contemplating quitting tennis," said Goodall. "Playing in the Davis Cup felt like a massive achievement, that all my hard work had paid off, and I played Wimbledon as well.

"I've plateaued a bit at a Challenger ranking but I've been at this level before and I know what I need to do to get to the next level, which is why I'm working so hard.

"If I don't see myself getting closer to the top 150 by next summer I will take a look at what I want to get out of this. I'm 27 and I've got bills to pay."

The relative lack of money lower down the game has become a hot topic this season, with the leading players threatening to strike unless the rewards are increased at the grand slam tournaments - specifically for those who lose in the early rounds.

Goodall has earned an average of around 30,000 in prize money over eight years as a professional, while his income is topped up by the Lawn Tennis Association's bonus scheme, which rewards players financially for their results with the stated aim of keeping them in the game longer.

It has earned Goodall almost 10,000 this year, and he said: "That was a really good decision by the LTA. If I didn't have that I probably wouldn't have been able to afford to carry on playing.

"At Futures and Challenger level the prize money is not high enough. When you're barely breaking even it's difficult to accept, especially when you think tennis is a big sport.

"I saw a statistic that 30 years ago golf and tennis were identical in terms of prize money but a US dollars 10,000 tournament has been a USD 10,000 tournament for a long time. And there's a lot more tennis players now.

"We're professionals and it would be nice if it was a bit easier to make a living. At the moment it comes with a lot of stress."

Elena Baltacha has been Britain's leading female player for much of the last decade, battling injuries and ill health before breaking into the top 100 in 2009 at the age of 26.

She faces another battle to try to get back there after undergoing ankle surgery this summer, but her success has at least provided a financial cushion.

Baltacha credits coach Nino Severino with helping her realise her full potential, at considerable personal risk to himself.

"You come up against a brick wall at every level," the Scot said. "That's what tennis does - it weeds you out. You just have to run through it, climb over it or find a way around it.

"It all depends on whether you're willing to back yourself up, whether that's on the court or in getting sponsorship or things like that. People have taken loans, remortgaged their houses. They're big decisions.

"When I left my old academy, I was sponsored and I knew that once I walked out I would lose that. It was a big risk I took but my coach believed in me that much he was willing pretty much to put his house on the line. Thankfully it paid off."

Baltacha appreciates the relative luxuries of life on the WTA Tour precisely because she spent many years experiencing the other side of the tennis tour.

The 29-year-old recalled a string of small tournaments in the Far East after back surgery in 2007 for which she had to qualify and where at one stage she did not even have a bed to sleep on.

She said: "I remember lying there and thinking, 'is this all worth it?' But it definitely toughened me up and made me work hard because I wanted to get away from that.

"Sometimes it's quite healthy to go through hardships because it challenges you and asks questions of you about whether you're tough enough to succeed."