Welcome to the Real World Tennis pro Nicole Pratt has to work on her budget as hard as on her backhand

July 23, 2000

She's played on Centre Court at Wimbledon, she's won a doubles
title on the WTA tour, and she's the No. 48-ranked female tennis
player in the world. But when it comes to matters financial,
Nicole Pratt, a 27-year-old Australian, is a galaxy removed from
Venus--as well as from Serena, Anna, Lindsay and Martina. While
the leading stars command upward of $75,000 for a one-night
exhibition, Pratt is lucky to earn that much playing six months
of tournaments.

In 1999, her 11th year as a pro, Pratt made $136,547 in prize
money--nothing to sneeze at, but nowhere near, say, the $3.3
million Martina Hingis won. Pratt earns additional income as a
member of the Australian Federation Cup team. How much depends
on how far the team advances; last year she earned about
$14,000. But she has no endorsement income and plays no
exhibitions. (On the other hand, she has no agent to siphon 15%
of her prize money.) She expects her income to be only a little
more this year. How does a self-described "middle-class player"
make ends meet?

Because Pratt earns her salary on four continents, her tax bill
is more convoluted than tennis's ranking system. As a rule, 25%
to 30% of her income is ceded to Uncle Sam--or his Uzbekistani
equivalent. Pratt wins more than half her prize money at the
four Grand Slam events, at which 7% of her winnings go back to
the WTA tour for operational costs, and an additional amount,
about 2.5%, is diverted to the tour's pension fund.

Her biggest expense, like that of most tennis pros, is airfare.
It's a good year if Pratt spends less than $30,000 on flights.
To avoid pricey last-minute fares, she plans her playing
schedule and purchases all her airline tickets for the year in
January. Never sure how long she'll last in a tournament, she
pays a premium for the ability to change reservations without
incurring a penalty. Friends have tried to persuade her to fly
first class--"You arrive at events feeling so much fresher,"
says doubles specialist Rennae Stubbs--but Pratt won't pony up
the extra cash. She often upgrades to business class on long
international flights, using some of the 100,000 frequent-flier
miles she accumulates annually.

Pratt's fiscal pet peeve is the $10,000 she shells out for
hotels annually. By dint of her ranking, she often plays small
events at which players' lodgings aren't covered for the
duration of the tournament. In Rosmalen, the Netherlands, last
month, Pratt and her partner, Erika DeLone, won the doubles
title and $4,500 apiece but had to pay $100 a night for their
hotel room. "Can you imagine a professional basketball player
paying for his own hotel room before a big game?" says Pratt, a
member of the WTA players' council who has been lobbying for
tournaments to pick up the tab for all players' accommodations.
"It's ridiculous."

Pratt, DeLone and another Australian, Annabel Ellwood, share a
coach, Lorenzo Beltrame, who travels with them to most of the 30
or so events they play each year. The women split his travel
expenses as well as his $1,500-a-week salary. Pratt also spends
around $20,000 annually to train at the LGE Sports Performance
Center in Orlando. There she has access to a personal fitness
trainer, a sports psychologist, exercise equipment and a
nutritionist. "It's a lot of money," she concedes, "but it's the
best investment I've made in my career."

To avoid living out of her duffel year-round, Pratt keeps a base
in Orlando. She, DeLone and Ellwood share the $15,000 annual
rent on a furnished 2.5 bedroom apartment. Pratt spends fewer
than 100 nights a year there, but, as she says, "it's home."
Last year she purchased a Ford Explorer--used--for $20,000. On
the road she spends $3,000 a year on car rentals.

Out of her remaining disposable income, Pratt pays moderate
phone bills for calls to Australia (about $1,000 a year), spends
as much as $200 a week on string jobs ($20 a racket) during
tournaments and sends "a little something" to her younger
sister, Kylie, a masters candidate in education at Campbell
University in Buiss Creek, N.C., who is trying to earn her LPGA
tour card. "I guess like most people I spend my money almost as
fast as I earn it," Pratt says.

She's hardly pleading poverty, however. Aside from her
six-figure income, Pratt receives free gear from Puma ("Whatever
Serena doesn't take," she jokes) and free rackets from Prince.
When she's at events, she gets her meals--and, often, haircuts,
concert tickets and even greens fees--gratis. "No doubt it's a
good life," she says. "But for the vast majority of players
outside the top 20, making enough money is always in the back of
your mind."

COLOR PHOTO: NANCIE BATTAGLIA

One Pro's Finances

NO. 48-RANKED Nicole Pratt topped six figures last year on the
WTA tour. Here's how she spent it.

Income: $150,000

Expenses Cost

Income Tax $35,000
Travel (Airfare, Hotels) $40,000
Coaching $15,000
Trainer, Gym, etc. $20,000
Rent $5,000
Incidentals $10,000
Total $125,000

What's Left: $25,000

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)