Conversation with Keith-Patrick Crowley

Soweto Tennis Open: Day 2

Keith-Patrick Crowley is 25 years old. He is a professional tennis player born and raised in South Africa. He currently holds an ATP ranking of 1156 in singles and 520 in doubles, and he may have to leave the tour because he’s running out of money.

Does this sound familiar? For my regular readers, it should. A few months ago I posted an article about James McGee, a young Irish player who is facing similar challenges. I’ve also shared several articles from various websites and magazines discussing this very issue.

Instead of simply complaining, though, Keith has decided to do something to change the prize money inequities in professional tennis. He has created a Facebook page and a Facebook group to garner support for a petition to the ATP and ITF to create a structure in which players ranked outside the top 100 can afford to stay on tour and make a living wage. Keith is also putting together a blog (click here) containing many stories and photos of life on the tour so readers will be able to see what really goes on out there. 

Why should we as tennis parents be concerned about prize money on the professional tour? What does it have to do with us and our kids? Without these lower-ranked players clawing their way up the ladder, professional tennis as we know it will cease to exist – it will become a series of exhibition matches between the top players, same-old-same-old, with little to no opportunity for new faces to emerge. We need these up-and-coming players and experienced veterans to keep playing, to keep fighting the good fight, to keep our sport alive. Without a strong professional side, junior and college tennis will suffer, too.

Here is my Q&A with Keith . . .

  • Briefly describe your history in tennis: How old were you when you started playing? Did you play college tennis? Where? When did you turn pro? What is your highest pro ranking? What is your current ranking? My father, Keith Crowley, was a Professional tennis coach in my home town of Durbanville (Cape Town), South Africa. I started playing tennis as soon as I could pick up a racket. I played my first tournament when I was only 7 years old. I was the number one ranked junior in South Africa and reached the top 200 in the ITF Juniors. I played college tennis for the University of Miami (’07-’11), I graduated with a degree in Business, Finance. I turned pro in January of 2012. My highest ranking in singles has been 758 and 441 in doubles. My singles is currently 1156 (I have not played a tournament since the end of October last year because of an injury and running out of money to continue to travel and play) and doubles is currently 520. 
  • What are your approximate annual expenses related to tennis? When doing my budget last year my biggest expenses were: travel (flights, hotels), living expenses (rent) and coaching, trainers and general maintenance I needed on my body (If you want to compete with the top guys you can’t leave any aspect of the game out, physical, mental or tactical). I base myself in Miami Florida. Last year I spent between 40,000-45,000 USD with the support of parents, sisters and brother in-laws (without them I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play professional tennis). If i wanted to do it with a full time coach, trainer and do everything that is needed I’m looking at 120,000 USD. I coach tennis when I am on a training block in Miami to make extra money. I also model for a Wilhemina Models in Miami (This has helped me stay afloat and earn my own money), making more money in a week of shooting than I did the entire year on the ATP tour. 
  • What is your approximate annual income related to tennis? Since I stared in 2012 I have earned $13,538 according to the ATP website of which 70% of that was in 2013.
  • How many tournaments per year do you play? In how many different countries? I try play 20-25 tournaments a year. Last year I traveled to 5 different countries (USA, Greece, India, South Africa and Mexico).
  • What is the biggest challenge you face as a pro player and why? Traveling around the world trying to improve my ranking with limited finances. Trying to cut costs by staying in very cheap hotels, eating anything that is cheap while trying to perform at the highest level with an extremely tough field of players. When I am at tournaments it helps because there is usually a trainer available and inexpensive massages offered, but when I am in Miami I am not able to pay rent most months, never mind take care of my body in the way that it should be. I haven’t had health insurance since I graduated college, trying to cut costs. Financing myself is the biggest challenge. 
  • Why now in terms of rallying your fellow players to fight for more prize money at the lower level events? After traveling to many different countries and having played in mostly future events but also some challengers and ATP qualifying events, the conversations didn’t change no matter where I was or what level tournament I was playing in. There are 2 main reasons why I am currently fighting for a change in the prize money system. 1. I am doing what I always dreamed of doing but I have reached a point in my life, age 25, that I need to start doing what makes the most sense for my future, not only in tennis. At the start of 2014 I was still paying off debt from my 2013 due to my tennis. I spent all the money I had and my parents and family provided me with everything that I needed. They are still willing to support me but I feel I need to start supporting myself at age 25, and with the current system in tennis it doesn’t look very promising. Not because I don’t believe I can make it to the top 100 in the world but rather because I don’t know when I’ll have enough money to travel to another tournament unless I find a sponsor (I have to be competing to give myself any chance). 2. I posted two articles on players, one that quit when he reached the top 200 because he ran out of money and the other that is currently just outside of the top 200 and still not breaking even. The former CEO of South African tennis read these articles and saw my frustration. He contacted me to offer his help in anyway that he could because he has fought for us for over ten years. I currently have no money to travel; this has been an on going issue and I simply decided that something has to be done about it. I took the initiative and here I am now. I have no idea if this will benefit me because if there is change I feel it will take couple years to implement but I decided that I am willing to put in the time which I have due to my current situation and help the game of tennis for the future. I want to make a difference. Hopefully sooner than later.
  • What do you anticipate will be your biggest obstacle in getting more prize money at the futures/challengers events? The ATP is run like a business. They are only concerned about the players that can generate more income for them. To them the players from 200-2160 mean nothing to the game of tennis but they are actually the ones that keep the game alive. I am currently trying to figure out how to reach the board members of the ATP and the current players in charge of the players board (Federer is currently the President). Getting them on board to support this will be the toughest part. Finding a top 5 ranked player and an ATP employee with the credentials- to stand up and stay something. The word is spreading; we just need to get our foot in the door. If and when we do, the players and the ATP will have to meet to come to an agreement on how to raise the prize money. The lack of sponsorships and interest at the lower level in this brutal individual sport doesn’t help us get the money that we need. The distribution of revenue from Grand Slams will have to change. The ATP cannot only promote the top 5 players in the world, but getting them away from this will be a challenge in itself. 
  • Are your parents supportive of your decision to continue playing professionally or would they like to see you move into a “real job”? What about your girlfriend? Both my parents and girlfriend are very supportive of my decision to keep playing. They know how hard I have worked to get to where I am today and they want to see me reach my potential. 
  • What will it take for you to leave the tour? After this year if I’m not able to make enough money to travel and give myself a fair chance to compete I will have no choice but to leave the tour. I won’t leave the tour at this point no matter how bad my situation is; I want to find a way. I am willing to do whatever it takes but there is only so much I can do. 
  • What goals are you trying to achieve as a pro player? What would you like your legacy to be? When turning pro in 2012 I had and still have the goal of reaching top 200 in singles and top 100 in doubles. I have been more successful in doubles and would like to focus on that if I am able to get my ranking high enough. I don’t want to be seen as another player that has the potential and quit the tour because of my financial issue. I want to reach my goals, i want to figure out how I can give myself and many other players a greater chance and if I can’t I would like to leave something else positive behind. This is the reason why I am putting as much effort into this. My day currently consists of tennis, gym, fitness and spending hours on my laptop responding to messages and posting things regarding this topic. 
  • What can ParentingAces readers do to help your cause? Spread the word to as many people in the tennis world as possible. The more people that join/support this cause and the more people that hear about this cause the better our chances are of making a difference. 

To my readers, please take the time to visit Keith’s Facebook groups and blog and lend your support to his efforts to make a difference. He’s not just doing this for himself but also for his fellow players, including OUR KIDS.