An Open Letter Regarding My Decision Not to Play Davis Cup
Firstly, I would like to wish team SA the best of luck this weekend. It is unfortunate that it will not be played in South Africa, but nevertheless I know the boys will play their hearts out. I will certainly be following their progress and supporting them all the way.
There has been talk and speculation as to why I am not playing this tie against Canada in the news and on social media. At first, I thought it was better to stay quiet. Some people understand my decisions, others don't – that’s life. I appreciate the support and can understand fair criticism. However, as is often the case with the media, facts get misrepresented. I do not think forming opinions which are based on inaccurate information is fair or beneficial. Additionally, I've heard statements that are not only incorrect but also out of touch with the reality of professional tennis. For these reasons, I felt it was necessary to set the record straight.
Playing professional tennis is a very demanding profession. It differs to most other sports in terms of its individuality and global reach. The season is all year round, it is played in all parts of the world and is increasingly competitive. Yet I wouldn't change what I do for the world. It's my job, and one that I love doing.
In order to keep improving and be successful there are a few factors to consider. Besides motivation and hard work, one needs to find a way to stay healthy. I have learned that this requires proper tournament scheduling and rest periods. Another major factor is having a strong support team. Due to the success I have experienced so far, I can finally afford to employ a full time coach and physiotherapist. However, as one can imagine this is very expensive. At a minimum this type of setup costs a player $250,000 a year (R2,000,000 at the current exchange rate).
I have funded my entire career on my own. I find myself in a tricky position in attracting sponsors when I am a South African living mainly in the United States, so I have to rely heavily on prize money which is never guaranteed. Having both a coach and a physio travel with me is a huge financial burden. The prize money for someone with my ranking is not as much as you might expect when compared to the costs of life on tour; it is certainly not comparable to the earnings of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, etc. Tennis South Africa (TSA) has never provided financial support or funding to help cover the costs of playing on the tour.
In 2011 I played Davis Cup because it was financially attractive to do so; I was able to cover my expenses during the Davis Cup week and also the opportunity cost of adjusting my tournament schedule. However for this tie against Canada, TSA was not able to provide the support that justified me sacrificing my schedule and increasing my risk of injury. If I am injured during Davis Cup play, which happened last year, I receive no support, assistance or insurance from anybody. I am on my own. I told TSA during Wimbledon that the compensation for the tie needed to be sufficient to address the issues at hand. I was available to the play the tie against Canada if TSA had made me an offer that addressed my concerns. However, they did not.
Critics insinuate that the honor of playing for one's country should necessitate a player to compete in Davis Cup ties, regardless of what financial incentives are (or are not) being offered. Of course playing for my country is a massive incentive to play, but I would be foolish not to weigh the consequences as well.
I would also like to clarify my participation in the World Team Tennis (WTT) finals this week. My decision to play WTT finals came months after my choice not to play Davis Cup. About a month ago, I was asked if I wanted to compete in the finals of the WTT, which happens to take place the same weekend as the Canadian Davis Cup tie. The physical demands of WTT (which consists of a first to 5 games singles and doubles match) cannot be compared to a Davis Cup tie (which potentially involves 3 different 5 set matches over 3 days). Anybody who suggests otherwise clearly does not know the facts. It has been suggested in the press and by Davis Cup captain JL de Jager that I fabricated an injury to excuse myself from Davis Cup, while having the intention of playing WTT all along. Not only is this completely untrue and unrepresentative of the facts, but it is also impossible given that the WTT team I will play for had not qualified for the finals until early August.
Finally, I think it is important to point out that I am not the only player who has voiced concerns about the physical and scheduling demands of the Davis Cup. There have been a lot of discussions about possible ways to change the Davis Cup format. It is ridiculous that in addition to the already demanding tour schedule, there are on average 3 Davis Cup ties a year. It is common for top players to make themselves unavailable to play Davis Cup, including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. I would like nothing more than to see a new Davis Cup format that would make it easier for all our best players to compete.
At the end of the day, I believe that I have to look out for my own career and my family’s future. My whole life I have made countless sacrifices in order to be the best athlete I can be. Unfortunately, sometimes that means making tough decisions, especially when it comes to Davis Cup. I am a proud South African and I don’t believe I have to prove this by sacrificial Davis Cup participation, 3 times a year. I proudly represent South Africa every time I step out onto the court; I fundamentally believe that South African representation at ATP, WTA and Grand Slam events is just as important for tennis in South Africa as the Davis Cup.