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It cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars, a few jobs, and a marriage

Noah Rubin’s parents, Eric and Melanie, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a professional tennis player, that is now ranked 173rd at men’s ATP tour. Eric had to borrow money for $130-an-hour tennis lessons, lost three jobs as a commercial lender as he skipped work to train him, and Melanie worked at the tennis club for nothing to get free court time for her son.

The costs escalated over the years as Noah, the 2014 junior Wimbledon champion and 2015 NCAA singles finalist, travelled the world for tournaments, always accompanied by a parent or a coach. Not to mention about $100 outfits, a constant supply of hard-court and clay-court sneakers, and other equipment. “He went through hundreds of rackets. We’d buy five to six rackets at a time at $250 per racket,” Eric said. “There were times I was unemployed, so it was a problem. I borrowed from my parents a ton.”    

Entry fees that had started at $50 per tournament soon reached about $40,000 per year. And that’s after-tax money, which means that his father’s first $80,000 of income were spent for that.

According to the British Lawn Tennis Association, it costs about $385,000 to develop a player from 5-18 years. And staying pro is not much cheaper really. In 2010 the U.S. Tennis Association estimated that the average annual cost for highly competitive players was $143,000, including $70,000 for coaching and $60,000 for travel, and only 164 highest-ranked players on ATP would break even with it. If you make it to the top, the potential rewards and salaries are, however, enormous. 

Noah started playing tennis since he was a child and was already beating almost twice his age in tournaments at the age of 7, so Rubins turned for support to Kleger, then executive director of tennis for Sportime. As a 10-year-old he won a regional tourney and was 2010 finalist at the prestigious Les Petits As 14-and-under tournament in France, whose past winners have included Rafael Nadal and Michael Chang.

By then, this prospective tennis player received free rackets from Head and clothing and shoes from Adidas. Sportime and the McEnroe Academy also started covering the cost of his tennis lessons, most of his travel and tournament costs from when he was 15, and online classes of about $7,000 a year, since he left high school before 10th grade. The Rubins paid about $10,000 for tutors in the 18 months leading up to college, using part of Eric’s buyout from North Fork.

But before that, all of Noah’s enormous expenses came from his parent’s pockets, who still must pay their way to his tournaments. “They’ve put a lot of money into it, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that’s why tennis is one of the toughest sports to get into. I mean, if you want to be good there’s no happy medium. Money will be spent,” Noah explained.

Noah’s parents divorced in 2010, and although tennis didn’t cause the breakup directly, it led to constant tension between them. It cost as much as $25,000 in post-divorce court proceedings as well, determining detailed rules on which parent would direct Noah’s burgeoning tennis career.

This 22-year-old turned pro in June 2015, has won four ATP Challenger titles till now and has been regularly ranked around Top 200 in singles. He hopes a long pro career will allow him to pay back his parents for all their financial and personal sacrifices. “Both parents, but especially my dad, hid a lot of the negative effects of what my tennis was doing to him,” Noah says. “When I won Wimbledon, my feeling of happiness was more for him than anything else.”

Noah Rubin’s story is a textbook example of how high entry barriers of professional sports can really be, and how much sacrifice it takes from athletes and their families. If he could use the help of SportyCo back then, his parents would probably still get divorced, but it would be a lot easier for them to carry on a normal life, focusing more on themselves and not putting everything aside because of his career.

Sources: Bloomberg, ATP World Tour

 

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