If every cloud has a silver lining, then every silver lining, too, has a cloud. For Roberto Marcora, both of these eventualities came to pass at the 2020 Maharashtra Open in Pune. Coming through the qualifiers, the Italian became the oldest player in 2016 – Jan Mertl, Gstaad – to win his first main draw match on the ATP World Tour after defeating Lukas Rosol in the first round.
His straight-sets takedown of the top-seed Benoit Paire leading to him reaching his first quarter-final in an ATP event supplemented his initial success – or the silver lining in the clouds. “It’s a different world.
It’s a different world also between Futures and the Challengers because before playing Challengers I played a lot of Futures and then I played a lot of Challengers and now, I am playing the first qualies [of] the ATP and this is the real tennis, true tennis.
Every tennis player, every little guy who starts to play dreams to play in front of a crowd like this, in a stadium like this, in a tournament like this so I am just happy”. Marcora’s excitement was palpable as he soaked in the ambience that was a far cry from what he was perhaps used to on the Challenger circuit.
His loss to James Duckworth in the last-eight reversed the scenario, once again showing the clouds that had edged the silver lining, all too quickly. “…That’s why I am running to the airport because I have to play Cherbourg next week – come back to the real life,” Marcora wryly noted, as he spoke with Tennis World USA for a quick conversation.
His bags were already in the car that was waiting to escort him to the airport, for his next halt in France for the €46,600 Challenger event. His eyes that had glowed with excitement after his upset of Paire had dimmed with the reality of his last result but he was not disappointed with how things had unfolded.
Rather, it incentivised him to keep pushing himself so that he could make the transition from playing Challengers to the Main Tour on a steadier basis. “I mean I play 30 tournaments per year and 26 are Challengers, 25, 24 maybe.
I would like to change a little bit this thing and maybe play 20 and 10 but is good. I want to start from this week. Now, I got in last week in Dubai or Acapulco but I am 10 or 11 out from the qualies. I will try to get in and I will try because I want to improve.
Improve my level and you improve only if you play, not with only your level players. You have to play against players like James [Duckworth], like Benoit [Paire] or top-100, top-50 [players]”. Apart from the hierarchical metrics between the Challenger and World Tour circuits, moving into the first rung of the professional circuit would also mean better monetary returns.
This week, Marcora earned $16,250 after reaching the quarters in Pune. It’s just a little less than a third of his career prize money of $67,665 which, is paltry for someone who has been playing tennis professionally since 2009.
But it is not overly surprising given how the paying scale functions in the Challenger Tour. “In the Challengers, it’s tough. If you lose in the first round, you earn €400-€450. Minus tax, it’s tough, tough life,” Marcora pointed out.
Further, giving a comparative scale of how significant the gap in pay is between the top two tiers of the pro tour, Marcora said, “It’s [the situation] started to be better because especially in the Grand Slams, they are improving a lot.
Also, for us, for qualifiers’ players you go there and 1st round qualies is $13k. So, seven-eight years ago, was maybe it was $5 or $6k. So, they have improved a lot. So, if you qualify in the ATP, you get good money”.
Stating that players have been making themselves heard about this existing imbalance and the ATP knew of this skewed price pie, Marcora added he hoped that changes would be made soon. Regardless of these external factors, there is no diminishing Marcora’s enthusiasm for professional tennis.
“What motivates me?” he laughed, when asked about it. “I like to play to travel the world and playing tennis. So, I feel very blessed and lucky to do this kind of life. A lot of my friends are in Milan and working from 7.30 AM to 8.00 PM in office so [not doing] that motivates me”.
It is, then, the struggle that motivates the 30-year-old to keep it real and simple, between clouds and the silver lining and what not. Photo Credit: Tata Open Maharashtra