After eight years’ slog in professional tennis, Albury export Sam Groth, ranked 157 in the world, is yet to find fame and fortune.
But last week he reached the quarter-finals of the Brisbane International, and with a wildcard entry into the Australia Open starting on Monday he believes this could be his year.
For every Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer there are hundreds of struggling underdogs with no entourage on the pro circuit. Groth, 26, reckons he earned more than $100,000 last year but it was almost all eaten up by expenses — tax, hotels, flights, food, clothes and racquets.
However, he clings to his love of the game and a desire to crack the top 100.
After graduating from the Australian Institute of Sport at 21, Groth spent years on the road alone, staying in no-star hotels from Uzbekistan to Algeria and entering major tournaments via qualifying rounds.
Last year he played 28 tournaments in 10 countries; earning the most ($22,000) at Wimbledon after losing in the singles second qualifying round and losing in the doubles second round. At the Australian F1 Futures tournament in Melbourne last February he earned a total of $235 in singles and doubles.
But his improved ranking — up from 230 this time last year — has meant better hotels at least.
Davis Cup coach Josh Eagle said when he played professional tennis more than 10 years ago Australian players had it easier financially because the Australian dollar was much lower against the US dollar.
Today the currencies are much closer and the cost of living is much higher, while prizemoney for lower round winners is still low.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said it was not right that lower rankers such as Groth struggled financially and you had to be in the top 50 to make a good living in tennis.
The Australian Open now pays first-round losers $30,000, and Tiley called on grand slams and lesser tournaments to help lower-ranked players make a living.
Groth is proud he’s at least stayed afloat on the tour for so long, even though he spurned tennis for a while in 2011 to return to football, playing for the Vermont Eagles following the end of his marriage to Jarmila Gajdosova.
He is capable of grabbing headlines. In 2012 he fired a 263km/h serve in an event in South Korea, the fastest recorded in pro tennis.