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Welcome to the Real World
L. Jon Wertheim
July 24, 2000
Tennis pro Nicole Pratt has to work on her budget as hard as on her backhand
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July 24, 2000

Welcome To The Real World

Tennis pro Nicole Pratt has to work on her budget as hard as on her backhand

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One Pro's Finances
No. 48-Ranked Nicole Pratt topped six figures last year on the WTA tour. Here's how she spent it.

Income:

$150,000

Expenses

Cost

Income Tax

$35,000

Travel (Airfare, Hotels)

$40,000

Coaching

$15,000

Trainer, Gym, etc.

$20,000

Rent

$5,000

Incidentals

$10,000

Total

$125,000

What's Left:

$25,000

He's played on Centre Court at Wimbledon, she's won a doubles title on the WTA tour, and she's the No. 48-ranked female tennis player in the world. But when it comes to matters financial, Nicole Pratt, a 27-year-old Australian, is a galaxy removed from Venus—as well as from Serena, Anna, Lindsay and Martina. While the leading stars command upward of $75,000 for a one-night exhibition, Pratt is lucky to earn that much playing six months of tournaments.

In 1999, her 11th year as a pro, Pratt made $136,547 in prize money—nothing to sneeze at, but nowhere near, say, the $3.3 million Martina Hingis won. Pratt earns additional income as a member of the Australian Federation Cup team. How much depends on how far the team advances; last year she earned about $14,000. But she has no endorsement income and plays no exhibitions. (On the other hand, she has no agent to siphon 15% of her prize money.) She expects her income to be only a little more this year. How does a self-described "middle-class player" make ends meet?

Because Pratt earns her salary on four continents, her tax bill is more convoluted than tennis's ranking system. As a rule, 25% to 30% of her income is ceded to Uncle Sam—or his Uzbekistani equivalent. Pratt wins more than half her prize money at the four Grand Slam events, at which 7% of her winnings go back to the WTA tour for operational costs, and an additional amount, about 2.5%, is diverted to the tour's pension fund.

Her biggest expense, like that of most tennis pros, is airfare. It's a good year if Pratt spends less than $30,000 on flights. To avoid pricey last-minute fares, she plans her playing schedule and purchases all her airline tickets for the year in January. Never sure how long she'll last in a tournament, she pays a premium for the ability to change reservations without incurring a penalty. Friends have tried to persuade her to fly first class—"You arrive at events feeling so much fresher," says doubles specialist Rennae Stubbs—but Pratt won't pony up the extra cash. She often upgrades to business class on long international flights, using some of the 100,000 frequent-flier miles she accumulates annually.

Pratt's fiscal pet peeve is the $10,000 she shells out for hotels annually. By dint of her ranking, she often plays small events at which players' lodgings aren't covered for the duration of the tournament. In Rosmalen, the Netherlands, last month, Pratt and her partner, Erika DeLone, won the doubles title and $4,500 apiece but had to pay $100 a night for their hotel room. "Can you imagine a professional basketball player paying for his own hotel room before a big game?" says Pratt, a member of the WTA players' council who has been lobbying for tournaments to pick up the tab for all players' accommodations. "It's ridiculous."

Pratt, DeLone and another Australian, Annabel Ellwood, share a coach, Lorenzo Beltrame, who travels with them to most of the 30 or so events they play each year. The women split his travel expenses as well as his $1,500-a-week salary. Pratt also spends around $20,000 annually to train at the LGE Sports Performance Center in Orlando. There she has access to a personal fitness trainer, a sports psychologist, exercise equipment and a nutritionist. "It's a lot of money," she concedes, "but it's the best investment I've made in my career."

To avoid living out of her duffel year-round, Pratt keeps a base in Orlando. She, DeLone and Ellwood share the $15,000 annual rent on a furnished 2.5 bedroom apartment. Pratt spends fewer than 100 nights a year there, but, as she says, "it's home." Last year she purchased a Ford Explorer—used—for $20,000. On the road she spends $3,000 a year on car rentals.

Out of her remaining disposable income, Pratt pays moderate phone bills for calls to Australia (about $1,000 a year), spends as much as $200 a week on string jobs ($20 a racket) during tournaments and sends "a little something" to her younger sister, Kylie, a masters candidate in education at Campbell University in Buiss Creek, N.C., who is trying to earn her LPGA tour card. "I guess like most people I spend my money almost as fast as I earn it," Pratt says.

She's hardly pleading poverty, however. Aside from her six-figure income, Pratt receives free gear from Puma ("Whatever Serena doesn't take," she jokes) and free rackets from Prince. When she's at events, she gets her meals—and, often, haircuts, concert tickets and even greens fees—gratis. "No doubt it's a good life," she says. "But for the vast majority of players outside the top 20, making enough money is always in the back of your mind."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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