Two months ago, I bought a one-way ticket to Australia and set off for my furthest and longest tennis trip yet. Seven weeks, six tournaments. While my next post will focus more on my tennis, I think it's always important to recognize that there's more to these trips than what happens on the court.
At this level, almost no one is making enough money to be profitable (or break even, sometimes). It's a topic that has been discussed practically everywhere within the tennis world, and even if you're lucky enough not to have to worry about money, you're going to feel it. While the top players are making millions in prize money and endorsements, most of us are spending far more than we make each week. Thankfully, I have people around me who have made tremendous sacrifices to allow me to pursue my dream; however, it's not always easy.
About midway through my trip, I remember having a dream that I had woken up in the middle of the night and received an email saying that I had overdrawn my account by over $200. Waking up the next day, I realized quickly that it was a real email. Lucky me! I now had a negative balance and about $30 cash. My dad was out of the country and wouldn't be able to add money to my account all week, and my mom worked every day and had no way of getting to my bank. To say that I was stressing would have been an understatement.
This was on a Thursday morning. Thankfully, my aunt was able to go to the bank, and she added enough money for me to get a hotel for the night. $70 later, I found myself in a weird, old-fashioned hostel that was full of drunk, middle-aged men and communal bathrooms. After describing my luxurious new bedroom, I was picked up by three of my fellow Americans to crash at their Airbnb house for the next two nights.
At dinner that night, my friend and I decided that we wanted to swim at the Great Barrier Reef - a once in a lifetime opportunity. But, I had no money.
"No problem. Just pay me back."
The next day, we did a 9-5 boat trip exploring the Great Barrier Reef. It was definitely an experience that I'm thankful for, even though we didn't see any sea turtles. However, after getting back onto land, I still had some major issues to deal with.
This next week was an off week (no tournaments), and I had been invited by some of the Tennis Australia girls and their coach Beti to come train with them at Melbourne Park for the week. What an opportunity! Before arriving in Australia, I knew almost no one, and this group almost immediately offered to take me in for the week. I would be able to practice where the Australian Open is played, and train with some really top-level girls. The generosity was unreal; but I still had to get to Melbourne.
I had one day to buy a ticket to Melbourne, and just as much time to somehow book myself into a hotel - with no money. I may be good at a lot of things, but managing to make money appear out of nowhere is (unfortunately) not one of them. My dad, via Denmark and a lot of grumbling about "always doing things last minute," managed to buy my ticket. One problem down! Booking the ticket relaxed me, because I knew it wouldn't be that hard to find a hotel, and that was something that I could ask my dad for help with as well. (Lucky him!)
Saturday morning, we packed our stuff and headed to town for the day (we had to be out of the house by 10am, but the flights weren't until the afternoon). I spent a few hours looking for hotels on my phone, and became more and more anxious as I found no reasonable options. Everything was hundreds of dollars. I started messaging all of the Australian girls that I knew to see if anyone could help me out; unfortunately, most of the girls that I knew in Melbourne already had people staying with them for the week. One of my friends suggested I ask a girl named Storm; she lived in Melbourne, and maybe knew someone who I could stay with. We had become Facebook friends earlier that week, so I messaged her with my dilemma. Storm replied and quickly offered her apartment for the week. Even though I hardly knew her and was arriving later that day, she didn't seem to think twice about letting me stay with her for an entire week.
Problem solved, right? Now all I needed to do was to cash my prize money check and pay my friend back. Then, I'd have money to hold me over for at least the next week. Off we went to the bank.
Who knew banks in Australia are closed all weekend?! What luck! Here I was with a check in my hand, hardly any money in my account, standing in front of the ANZ bank's closed doors. So. Close. Maybe it was just this bank, I thought.
Off we went to the mall. I went up to a worker and asked where the ANZ bank was, and if it would be open. She confirmed that banks are, indeed, closed on Saturday's in Australia. I must have looked like I was about to have a heart attack, because my friend - again - immediately offered to lend me money to hold me over until I could cash my check on Monday.
Not a single person had to do any of the things that they did. The Tennis Australia players and coach didn't have to let me train with them all week. Storm didn't have to offer up her an apartment to a virtual stranger, my American friends didn't have to offer up their Airbnb for two nights, and my friend certainly didn't have to lend me a total of $350 AUD. But they all did, without even thinking twice about it. Maybe I'm just lucky, but I really do think that, at the end of the day, most players realize that we're all in the same boat. Is it hard for me to admit that I had to accept so much help from people, and that I literally had no money at one point during my trip? Of course. But it's happened to so many players, and it'll probably keep happening.
For the next few weeks, I was able to get housing through people my dad knew - thank your Trevor, Dorthe, Jeff, and Gerda - and I was even able to get some of my friends who were also money-tight into housing with me. I stayed with my friend Angee for my last few nights in Sydney, and, looking back, it's amazing how many people helped me out.
Tournaments are stressful enough, as I'm sure I have shown in some of my previous posts. But the off-court things can be just as stressful. Knowing that I have to continue to ask my parents for money that they struggle to have is stressful. Every time I go to pay for a week's hotel bill, I'm stressed. When I want to do a little sight-seeing, I'm stressed about how much it will cost. I ask my parents for smaller amounts than I sometimes need, because it stresses me out when I see how much it stresses them out. Money is a constant problem.
Hopefully sometime soon I will make enough for this not to be an issue, or I'll manage to get a sponsor, or both; but for now, it's a real issue that affects so many players. Unless you have housing, you're almost always spending more money than you make at this level. The nice takeaway is remembering that so many people are in similar situations, and the tennis community mostly understands this. Even though it's hard to admit things like this, it's a real issue that should be talked about more. The number of players who struggle to make it because of money is unbelievable. The sacrifices that their families and the players make is inspirational, but it's not always enough. While the ups and downs of a tennis match can make a player want to explode, at the end of the day, there are a ton of other problems that most of us deal with that are bigger than any one tennis match; because without enough money, we can't even play at all.
11/9/2016 08:25:10 pm
Wow Shelby, I can completely relate to you. Although I haven't quite hit the stage of almost being homeless with an overdraft account but the issues you mentioned are completely real. On a side note, hope you enjoyed Australia besides the stressful side of things. All the best in your future tournaments. Abby.
11/9/2016 09:48:50 pm
Even though tennis is such an individual sport, there is a sense of family (crazy family)! Family helps family out! I can also relate to how tough it is on the Pro Tour! Also being a fellow American, I am so happy that I met you! You are genuine and honest (sassy) and that's something I really value in a person and a tennis player... so people helping you out in a time of need.. was no question! Life is a crazy journey and I can't wait until we are brought back together again!
11/10/2016 01:05:17 am
11/10/2016 03:42:33 am
Very nice !!!
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Former Hawkeye now playing tennis professionally; Journalism major.