The pressure, the competition, the workload, the sorry history of parent-coaches. Today’s stars to kids: Don’t go pro.

At 29 years old, Edouard Roger-Vasselin recently reached a career-high ranking in tennis, 65th-best in the world. He has yet to win a singles title and has earned almost $1.8 million in his career. He’s 6-foot-2, wiry and unassuming—even ardent tennis fans might fail to notice him if he passed by on the sidewalk. In tennis, though, Roger-Vasselin is an exceedingly rare player: the child of a former top pro. Of all the men and women who appeared at this year’s Wimbledon, Roger-Vasselin is the only one ranked inside the top 100 who had a parent who also ranked inside the top 100.

Other sports are famous for their family dynasties. Baseball has its Griffeys, football its Mannings, car racing its Earnhardts, Andrettis and Unsers. The combination of athletic genes and free-of-charge coaching would seem a perfect fit for tennis, a sport that requires intricate training from early childhood. If anything, the game should be thick with family trees.

Yet in talks with dozens of pros past and present, all said that while they would likely introduce their children to the sport they love, none would urge them to turn pro. These parents could be passing wisdom on to their children—secrets to master the technique, tactics and mental pressure of tennis—but they are reticent tennis parents. They know too much about the downside.

The chances for greatness in tennis are tiny and decreasing by the year, as the sport takes root in more places around the globe. The game now demands more athleticism, training and patience from its players, who are becoming champions in their mid-20s rather than late teens. It has always been a sport dominated by the few, hence the shock when Roger FedererRafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova lost in Wimbledon’s early rounds this week (it was Federer’s first defeat before the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam since 2004).

The competition is physically and mentally excruciating, and there are no teammates to share the load. In his autobiography, Andre Agassi called tennis the “loneliest” sport. Unlike in most other individual sports, tennis players battle opponents, not a course or a time clock or a judge’s scrutiny. Practice, concentration and routine aren’t enough. Being subjected to the will—mercilessly, hopelessly—of another player scrambles the mind.

Young players suffer. At the Easter Bowl junior tournament in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in April, frustrated competitors screamed “That’s so terrible!” and “Nooooooooo!” The quality of play was excellent, with powerful serves and forehands all around. Yet the odds say that few, if any, of those players will turn professional. And if they do, earnings are never guaranteed. An injury means no income, and outside the top 50, riches are scarce.

“I love the sport, so I want them to learn to play, but I have extreme trepidation about junior competition and tournaments,” says Lindsay Davenport, the former No. 1 and now a mother of a son and two daughters. “Junior tennis, it’s rough. People cheat, you get yelled at by other parents. I saw a dad walk on court and smack my opponent with an open hand, right in front of me. The sport beats up a lot of players.”

Tracy Austin, the former No. 1 player and child prodigy, has three sons who play tennis and other sports. One is a high-ranked junior; the other two play less frequently. She’s happy that her children aren’t hell-bent on winning the U.S. Open at age 16, as she did.

Tennis is too hard,” Austin says. “It’s so much more time-consuming than baseball, lacrosse, all these other sports. You cannot take a week off. The drive has to be so strong, the fire. Nobody was going to stop me.”

Kim Clijsters, the former No. 1 whose 5-year-old daughter Jada has started playing, says she wouldn’t want to train her daughter. “I’ll let another coach deal with that,” she says. “I think it’s important to keep that normal parent-child relationship.”

For big-name stars, there’s the obvious worry of raising a child with unfair expectations. “I see how people talk about Andre and Steffi’s kids now,” says Clijsters, referring to Agassi and Stefanie Graf’s two children, whom he and his wife haven’t pushed to play.

Federer, whose twin daughters have already picked up rackets, says: “That’s why I’m so happy that my first kids were girls and not guys. Otherwise there would’ve been maybe always, ‘You’ll never be as good as your dad.‘”

Then there’s the economics of the sport. Players must pay for coaches, physiotherapists, doctors, trainers, racket stringing and travel. Last year, only 58 men on the ATP earned more than $500,000 in prize money. On the women’s tour, there were just 37. By contrast, the minimum salary for a major league baseball player is $490,000 this season; in the NBA, it’s just under $474,000. In those two sports alone, hundreds of athletes make that and much more; their travel, fitness and medical expenses are also paid. Though the four Grand Slam tournaments recently increased prize money after demands from players, lower-ranked players who are trying to crack the top 100 still struggle. Jamie Murray, brother of Andy, has earned $64,103 this year and $825,507 since turning pro in 2004.

“I make enough to get by,” he says.

Edouard Roger-Vasselin has played tennis since childhood, but he mostly lived with his mother (his parents are divorced), went to regular school and didn’t seek training advice from his father until after he decided to try to become a professional at age 16. If he were to have a child, he says, he wouldn’t advise a life in tennis. “It’s a long way, it’s so hard. If you want to be something else, maybe it is better,” he says.

Tennis has a history of bad behavior by parents, a dynamic top pros are eager to avoid with their own kids. Jim Pierce, father of Mary Pierce, was banned from the tour for disruptive conduct during her matches. Mary, now a born-again Christian living in Mauritius, said in an interview this week that she has forgiven him. “I know that he wanted what was best for me,” she said.

Jelena Dokic’s father, Damir, was also banned from the game after a series of disruptive incidents. In 2006, Christophe Fauviau, a father of two junior players in France, admitted to slipping drugs into the drinks of his children’s opponents. He was convicted of manslaughter by a French court in 2006 after one of these opponents fatally crashed into a tree while driving home after a match with Fauviau’s son with traces of the drug in his system.

The latest incident came this year when John Tomic, the father and coach of top Australian prospect Bernard Tomic, was charged by a Madrid court with assault after allegedly head-butting his son’s hitting partner (Tomic says he was acting in self-defense). He has since been banned from the French Open, Wimbledon and all ATP World Tour events until next May. His son, who won his second-round match at Wimbledon Thursday, doesn’t want to play without him. “This is how I became good at tennis at a young age,” Tomic said. “I’m taking my dad’s side.”

A big push from parents is clearly part of the formula for a lot of tennis stars’ success. Richard Williams and Oracene Price, parents of Venus and Serena Williams. Yuri Sharapov, who moved to the U.S. with his young daughter, Maria Sharapova, and helped mold her into a champion. Toni Nadal, the uncle of Rafael Nadal, who has coached his nephew since the age of 4. Jimmy Connors, who was coached by his mother and grandmother.

The parents are crucial,” says Judy Murray, the mother of Andy and Jamie Murray and briefly a pro herself. “You pay for everything, make lessons. In team sports, a lot of that is organized for you.”

Jelena Jankovic, the 28-year-old Serb who reached the No. 1 ranking in 2008, wanted to quit tennis when she lost 10 straight matches in 2006. “My mom told me, ‘The easiest thing to do when things are not going well is to give up, you’re showing that you’re a loser,’ ” Jankovic says. “I wouldn’t have become No. 1 in the world—I wouldn’t be playing today—if it wasn’t for those words. That was a push.”

For parents of successful tennis stars, it helps to be ignorant of the harsh realities of competition. Commitment, persistence and irrational belief in a child’s talent are the most common traits among parents of champions. The parents of Novak Djokovic clung to the words of Djokovic’s first coach, Jelena Gencic, who called Djokovic a “golden child” when she saw him at age 6. (Gencic’s death during the French Open left Djokovic in tears.)

Edouard’s father, Christophe Roger-Vasselin, is a former French Open semifinalist. He now supervises training at a small tennis club in Paris. Over the years, he says, he has told parents, “ ‘You’ve got one chance in a million that your son is going to be a top player,’ and they all say, ‘Yes, you’re right,’ but they all think their own son is the one in a million.”

It doesn’t necessarily take a tennis background to teach technique, either. Josh Eagle, the Australian Davis Cup coach, marvels at what John Tomic has been able to teach his son Bernard and daughter Sara, who is a top junior.

“He read his information in a book—he’s quite knowledgeable,” Eagle says. “I’m just not quite sure that a parent-coach relationship is healthy for a 20-year-old guy.”

At Wimbledon, Edouard Roger-Vasselin lost in Monday’s first round in straight sets. The International Tennis Federation says there have only been three other father-son duos in the top 100 since the computer ranking system began in 1973: Fred and Sandon Stolle, Phil and Taylor Dent, and Leif and Joachim Johansson. The women’s game has even fewer examples of parent-child pairs, according to the WTA, with Vera and Helena Sukova being the most prominent. Both Sukovas played in Grand Slam finals; a son, Cyril Suk, was a pro but never ranked higher than No. 180.

For all her success, Jankovic says she wouldn’t encourage her children to follow the path she took. “It’s really not easy being on the road 11 months of the year,” she said. “I would want to teach them how to play and teach them a lot of good values that sport can teach you, like good discipline, work ethic. But I wouldn’t want them to be professionals.”

Asked if he would put a prospective son or daughter into tennis, Murray, who married in 2010, was emphatic. “The rewards are so small for the sacrifices you have to make,” he says. “I’d rather put a golf club in my kid’s hand. It’d be more fun for me as well.”


By Tom Perrotta

Source: Wall Street Journal- India –