Guillermo Garcia-Lopez sits in the lobby of an enormous Holiday Inn in central London wearing a gray track suit after a long day of rain-disrupted practice.
Tall and lean, Garcia-Lopez carries himself like a tanned Spanish movie star, yet something is clearly bothering him.
“I woke up and felt a really bad pain in my neck. I don’t know if it’s because of the pillow or whatever,” Garcia-Lopez tells CNN ahead of June’s Aegon Championships, a key Wimbledon warmup event held at Queen’s Club in west London.
“That’s the problem, because every week you are sleeping in a different bed with different pillows.”
Garcia is the 32nd best player in the world, according to the ATP rankings. He has accumulated more than $5.5 million in earnings over a career that would be considered wildly successful by nearly anyone who has picked up a racket dreaming of Centre Court.
At the moment, though, Garcia-Lopez is struggling just to get to get some rest.
“Sometimes you have a lot of noises in your room, and you can’t sleep. But what can you do? It’s our life,” he adds.
Tennis is almost certainly the most individual of all professional sports. Matches can drag on for hours, with no coaching allowed in between breaks. When you win as a singles player, the credit is all yours, and when you lose, you can’t blame it on teammates.
Off the court, the sport is just as individual as it is in between the baselines. Players are responsible for booking their own flights, accommodation and transfers (not to mention those of their support staff), without overwhelming their budgets.
For the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray – who frequently hop on private planes out of convenience – handlers and personal assistants are the norm, offering a huge advantage over nearly everyone else on the tour.
Could the disparity in lifestyles partly explain why top players maintain their foothold on single digit rankings year in and year out?
Since July 2008, the aforementioned three plus current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic have held their positions in the top 10. Spaniard David Ferrer joined them in October 2010 and has been a fixture ever since.
Meanwhile, outside of the dozen or so household names on the men’s and women’s circuits, tennis pros are often scrambling on short notice to lock in the best deals for their 30 to 40 weeks on the road each year. Most travel with their coaches, while some bring along friends and partners too. More rooms, more flights and more meals equal more costs.
“I know some soccer players and basketball players, for them it’s very easy,” says Garcia-Lopez. “They give you your boarding pass and the key to your room and it’s very easy. But like this, it’s a really, really serious problem that you have to organize everything.”
That’s why Garcia-Lopez’s opponent the next day, fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar, chose to pocket the daily $260 expense provided by the tournament and stay at a friend’s place in Earl’s Court, just one mile from Queen’s.
The modest two-bedroom apartment is set atop five flights of stairs with no elevator. A mattress is laid out on the floor of the living room for his coach Albert Portas, while Andujar uses the spare bedroom. He will move to an apartment just before Wimbledon starts.
The 29-year-old Andujar, a native of Valencia who “lives” in Namur, Belgium for the 20 weeks he’s not on the road, is currently ranked 36 in the world, with nearly $4 million in accumulated prize money.
Does he feel rich?
“It looks like a lot,” he says, explaining that about half of his earnings evaporate between expenses and taxes. “I don’t feel rich in a matter of money, but I feel rich in a matter of doing what I like. Enjoying the game and feeling something that only a few people can feel on the court; that for me is being rich.”
Andujar has played in five of the past six Wimbledon singles tournaments, getting bounced out of the first round each time. This year the All-England Club has raised its prize money to £29,000 for first round exits (before deducting 20% in taxes).
In the event that Andujar loses again, he says attending Wimbledon is still financially worthwhile – at the very least, to pad his budget for further travel.
“I think even if you have to pay your coach, your physio, their flights, their food, their hotels, etc., you probably still keep half of it,” he says. “In other countries, it’s quite a lot, and this is just for one match.”
Both Garcia-Lopez and Andujar have reaped the benefits of being born into Spain’s golden generation of players, when the sport took off in the 1980s and training facilities mushroomed around the country.
The downside, however, is that for all their talent and success they are currently ranked sixth and seventh in their homeland, losing out on any shot of lucrative sponsorship money.
Had either of them been from countries that haven’t produce clumps of players in the top 50, it would be a different story, according to Diego Dinomo, who coaches Garcia-Lopez.
“You could be 20 in the world, but maybe (in your country) you have somebody ahead of you like Nadal, so you’re no one,” he says. “Because if I’m a (sponsor), I want to invest in Nadal, not you.”
Nadal reaped $28 million in endorsement money alone last year, according to Forbes. Along with lucrative deals from Kia and Nike, the 14-time grand slam winner is paid to play with a watch specially designed for him by Richard Mille that carries a price tag of $775,000.
Like nearly every player in the top 100, Garcia-Lopez has his clothing and rackets sponsored (he’s signed with Lacoste and Head), b