LONDON • Want to train like Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal? You now can, but it will come at a cost.
The Rafa Nadal Academy, which opened in June last year on the Spanish island of Mallorca, is charging kids €56,000 (S$88,000) a year for tennis lessons and school.
Patrick Mouratoglou's new academy on the French Riviera, where his protege Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic have trained, will set one back close to €40,000 a year, while the IMG Academy in Florida costs US$78,250 (S$107,760).
With a cool £31.6 million (S$56.62 million) up for grabs at Wimbledon, including £2.2 million for the singles winners, tennis at the top is highly lucrative. But with most players now peaking in their late 20s and teenage Grand Slam winners few and far between, the costs of developing a tennis pro is rising while there are no guarantees that your child will make it as a professional.
With half of all 14,000 professional tennis players making no prize money at all, are big-name academies worth it?
"There is no rule, everything is possible," Mouratoglou said in Paris last month. "But the best way to succeed is to be surrounded by professionals."
The €70-million Mouratoglou Tennis Academy has 170 full-time students between the ages of 11 and 18. Opened by 23-time Grand Slam singles winner Williams last year, its 12-hectare, state-of-the-art site has 34 clay and hard courts, a sports medicine centre, two swimming pools and a track.
Although Mouratoglou acknowledged that "most of the kids are not going to be champions", he said the investment is not in vain because his programme teaches them important life skills while serving as a springboard to US universities.
"We are No. 1 in France to send players to American universities with scholarships. We send 60 players every year," he said.
Nadal echoed that line in comments about the philosophy behind his own academy.
"At the international school, we are going to help them make that transition to the best universities possible and prepare them for life," said the Spaniard, who never attended an academy growing up but sometimes trains at the one that bears his name.
But for Craig O'Shannessy, a strategy analyst for the ATP World Tour and a coach with over 20 years experience, nothing beats one-on-one attention when teaching technique. Academies focus more on group lessons due to higher numbers and a limited number of courts.
He said: "I still think there are a lot of different ways to get (to the top), whether it's other federations or other small academies or other private coaches."