NEARLY EVERY TIME Kiranpal “KP” Pannu tells someone what he does for a living, he’s bombarded with questions about his seemingly glamorous lifestyle as a professional tennis player. It happens almost every day.
“Unfortunately, all of their assumptions are wrong,” Pannu said recently, sighing. “And I’m like, ‘Well, if only you guys knew the other half.'”
In 2022, Pannu earned $6,771 in prize money. But his expenses, predominantly for travel, cost $34,500.
He has found ways to make money on the side — primarily through short coaching stints — and to save money, such as sharing accommodations with fellow players and going without health insurance.
But it makes for a challenging life full of uncertainty and financial insecurity.
“It’s hard to really consider myself a professional when I can’t even really provide for myself as a 25-year-old,” Pannu said. “I’m lucky that my parents are in a position where they can help me. They can’t help me a lot, but they can help me enough to where I can get through.”
Pannu ended the season ranked No. 664. And his experience is far from unique for lower-ranked professional tennis players.
Coaching, training and travel are all exorbitantly expensive. Combine that with small purses at lower-level events and a lack of sponsorship opportunities, and it produces a persistent financial strain. It also sets up an unlevel playing field: While the big-name players are traveling with sizable teams, the lower-ranked ones sometimes don’t even take a coach with them to events. It’s even more difficult to win without that support, creating an ever-widening gap between those at the top and everyone else.
“The most common struggle for anyone ranked outside of the top 100 is financial, and the stress it causes,” Vasek Pospisil, a 2014 Wimbledon men’s doubles champion, said. “They’re…
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