Reason: Tennis stars like Federer, Nadal and Djokovic only care about cash, not fans

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 21/01/2015
Reuters

SHOW ME THE MONEY: Despite his sanctimonious ways, Roger Federer really only cares for hard cash.

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Some friends drove over 600km from the Wairarapa to Auckland to watch the tennis at the Heineken Open. Why bother when they could have walked 600m down their road to the shearing sheds and got fleeced without all the expense and hassle.

OPINION: But don't blame the organisers for putting on a third rate tournament, blame Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The greed of the sport's top players means that mugs like us are having our pockets pinched. These men need never work again in their lives, so rich has tennis made them. But instead of playing in countries where the fans adore them, the big three cash in wherever and whenever they can.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic pander to plutocrats and charge huge appearance fees. The "trickle down effect" means that tournaments like the Heineken Open now have to pay appearance money for racketeers that many of us have never heard of. It's close to extortion.

Karl Budge, the director of the Heineken Open, said, "Player prize money has gone up incredibly over the last five years. Two years ago I didn't have to pay three of the players who were in the top 30. Now, if I want anyone in the top 30, I've got to pay them.

"At the pointy end it's significantly increased and because of that the next tier of players have been bumped up as well. Tournaments in Asia . . . are government funded or have private investors and we can't compete with those guys and we can't try."

Driving into Auckland airport on Monday, I was confronted by a huge poster of Djokovic. It informed me: "Opportunity has no limits. Your game, your way." The kid infected with ebola in Africa may disagree about opportunity having no limits but, hey, we should trust Novak because apparently he is an ANZ ambassador.

I wasn't aware that ANZ even had an embassy. Why should I invest in a bank that is prepared to pay a tennis player a fortune to say, "Your game, your way." Has Djokovic ever played a match in New Zealand?

When I get home in the evening I settle down to watch the actual product rather than the promo. Roger - there is no need for surnames when you are commentating on a superstar - is giving a man from Taipei, who used to chase chooks as a kid, the run around. At the break between games we go to an ad break and, oh no, there is Djokovic again.

This time he is solemnly pronouncing, "I always say that you're your own artist behind the masterpiece of your life." I take a toilet break and an injury time-out. I always say "you're your own con artist, Novak".

The Serb probably needs the extra cash because he doesn't make the sort of moolah that Roger and Rafa rake in over the year. Federer, after a poor 2013, became the top earner again last year with $72m. A huge chunk of that comes from endorsing products like Mercedes, Moet & Chandon and Credit Suisse, income that could exempt him from charging the sort of appearance fees that gouge the fan.

In 2014 the Fed spent a small portion of his annual income in building a new $13m villa in Wollerau, a Swiss tax haven where a couple of Formula One drivers also have residence. In sport and life the Fed likes to hit shots round the net post.

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Towards the end of last year Federer travelled to India to play in the new IPTL tennis event which is more Bolloxwood than Bollywood. Federer said: "It won't be my first time in India, but it will be my first time to play tennis, and that moment you walk onto the court or into the stadium - that's why I play tennis.

"I'm going to India for that feeling - playing tennis, showing what I can do, bringing over my personality, sharing the fun and all that with the people, and how are the people going to react."

The sanctimonious Federer isn't sharing anything. He originally had no interest in the IPTL. Federer went to India because Nadal pulled out through injury and Federer was then offered a sum estimated at $3.5m for a couple of days work.

One fan paid out a month's salary to see Federer play. Another fan, who paid $567 for her ticket, a fortune for an Indian worker, said, "I feel cheated with what I have got. I have travelled the world to see Roger play and with the money I spent here, I at least expected a seat on the court level. But as it turns out, I have been told to sit on the yellow coloured seats which are not even cleaned properly and far away from the court."

At the end of Federer's first round match at the Australian Open a fawning interviewer asked about his kids and if he had bought coach Stefan Edberg a birthday present - no, by the way, the privilege of knocking up with 'King Roger' was enough of a present apparently. But there was not one question about why the top three of tennis are rorting all their fans from Delhi to Auckland.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are often presented as great ambassadors of the sport, but it is time to call "fault" on them. The big three have the power. But instead of bringing tennis to the people, they have made it a game for "oiligarchs".

Roger, Rafa and Novak would play anywhere for money. No wonder each man is sponsored by a bank.

- Stuff

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