49. Djokovic’s millions

This post was first published by Ubitennis on 22 December 2015 at the following link: http://www.ubitennis.net/blog/2015/12/22/djokovics-millions-adjusting-for-inflation-but-for-excellence/

In 2015, Novak Djokovic won USD 21.6m in prize money, the most any one player has won in a single year. To some this is an astonishing figure, underscoring Djokovic’s current dominance – he won 3 of the 4 slams. To others USD 21.6m loses some of its significance given recent increases in ATP prize money and how financial inflation makes comparison between different years more difficult.

However, research of prize money data, including adjusting for inflation, shows that Djokovic’s prize money earnings this year (particularly in comparison to 2011, where Djokovic also won 3 slams) are the product almost equally both of sustained tennis excellence, at the slams and in the post-US Open period, and of large “real terms” increases in prize money at the slams.

Djokovic prize money – 2011 and 2015 seasons (actual amounts and adjusted for inflation)



As in 2011, Djokovic’s 2015 season was founded on winning 3 slams: Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open. 2015 highlights also included 6 Masters 1000 titles and the World Tour Finals title; and a win-loss record of 82-6 including an astonishing record of 30-5 against top 10 players.

Djokovic’s playing stats translated to earning USD 21.6m, more than players ranked 2 to 4 combined (Murray, Federer and Wawrinka), an achievement with only 1 precedent since 1985 (the first year that the ATP publishes season-by-season prize money totals), in 2006 when Federer himself won 3 slams.

Previously, Djokovic’s season in 2011 was considered to be a career year and yet Djokovic won just (ha!) USD 12.6m that year.

There are two principal reasons why Djokovic earned USD 8m more in 2015 than in 2011:

ONE) In 2011, despite putting together a 41 match win streak and putting together a win-loss record of 70-6 in 2011, he went 6-4 in the autumn after his US Open victory and did not win a tournament .

Fast forward to 2015 and Djokovic’s excellence was sustained throughout the year. This included going 19-1 after the US Open winning Beijing, Shanghai and Paris Masters 1000s as well as the World Tour Finals losing a single match at the Tour Finals to Federer.

The difference in post-US Open performance between prize money earned in 2011 (inflation-adjusted) and 2015 was worth USD 3.9m to Djokovic (see table).

TWO) However, tennis excellence does not explain all of Djokovic’s record prize money haul in 2015. For the rest, we need to look into decisions made in the last few years by the ATP tour and the different grand slam tournaments to raise prize money.  The upshot of these decisions has been to vastly expand the potential of leading players to earn prize money. (This also has troubling implications for the enlarged gap between tennis’s haves and have-nots – but this is not today’s story.)

Although much has been made of the ATP’s announcements to raise prize money (for example at Masters 1000 events), it is at grand slam events where the heaviest increases have been seen. In recent years, grand slam tournaments have in general sought to increase prize money in the lower rounds (R128, R64, R32) at an equal or marginally higher percentage than for the later rounds.  However, despite the fairness this implies, the tournaments’ winners were even more heavily compensated: a second round loser at the US Open in 2015 banked their 14% rise in prize money of a shade over USD 8,000 (total USD 68,600), while the winner had to make do with only a 10% rise – but from USD 3m to USD 3.3m.

In both 2011 and 2015, Djokovic won 3 grand slams – the Australian and US Opens and Wimbledon. In 2011, this was worth a shade over USD 6m (in 2015 dollars, adjusted for inflation). However, in 2015, these three titles were worth USD 9.3m, an extra USD 3.2m, an inflation-adjusted increase of 53% in only 4 years (see table).

While this article has sought to break down Djokovic’s earnings in 2015 only, research shows that over the last 5 years Djokovic has been the dominant earner of prize money in the men’s game (almost superior to Federer and Nadal combined). Prize money may only be an indicator of the game’s preferred currencies – grand slam titles and weeks holding the number one ranking – but it is another data point that helps to support Djokovic’s putative and eventual inclusion in the debate about the game’s greatest player: that is the subject of the next article in this series.


2 thoughts on “49. Djokovic’s millions

  1. Interesting post, thanks. I’m unsure why they actually increase the prize money so much. The previous prizes, in financial terms, seemed more than generous. How much money does a player and his or her team need, I wonder. Djokovic’s winnings in his career may also seem higher still to him, due to the cost of living in Serbia in general. I had sort of gone off Djokovic a bit, for a while, simply because he wins so many tournaments, and it seemed to be getting a little boring, but I have started to appreciate him a lot more recently, especially after doing a blog post on him as well.

    • David, thanks. I agree with you. I think the original instinct to reward the top players more was the right one. But currently the pendulum has swung a little bit too far in the last 5 years. Some of it seems a bit nonsensical too: the US Open and Wimbledon seem to vie each year with one another to provide the highest purse in tennis. But as you say an increase from $3m to $3.3m is neither here nor there to the top players. All the while round 1 and round 2 losers are generally nearer the break even mark and receive less of an absolute increase. Income inequality is growing on the ATP tour and has some unfortunate implications in that it must partly be an obstacle to those breaking through – who on average now break through into the top 100 aged 25 when historically the average is 22.

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