Tennis: Another historic milestone for Roger Federer as he tops Forbes rich list

Swiss is first tennis player to top Forbes' list of sports big-earners since its 1990 creation

Roger Federer's haul last year included US$100 million from appearance fees and endorsement deals, plus prize money of US$6.3 million. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Roger Federer's haul last year included US$100 million from appearance fees and endorsement deals, plus prize money of US$6.3 million. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Roger Federer, who will turn 39 in August, never seems to stop and he has come out on top again on Friday when he made history in a new way.

The Swiss maestro ranked No. 1 in the 2020 Forbes magazine list of highest-paid global athletes, leading the line-up for the first time with pre-tax earnings of US$106.3 million (S$150 million).

He is the first tennis player atop the annual list since it was created in 1990, rising from fifth last year and his previous highest ranking of No. 2 in 2013.

His haul over the past 12 months included US$100 million from appearance fees and lucrative endorsement deals, plus US$6.3 million in prize money.

Only 15-time golf Major champion Tiger Woods, who has a record 12 first-place rankings, has joined Federer in earning US$100 million in sponsor deals in a single year.

"Roger Federer is the perfect pitchman for companies, resulting in an unparalleled endorsement portfolio of blue-chip brands worth US$100 million a year for the tennis great," said Forbes' senior editor Kurt Badenhausen.

Federer's endorsement portfolio includes 13 brands with the likes of Barilla, Moet & Chandon and Rimowa paying between US$3 million and US$30 million to link him with their brands.

In 2018, he signed a 10-year blockbuster deal with Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo that would potentially pay him US$300 million over the duration. Other big names like Rolex, Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz and Wilson have remained on board for over a decade.

"His brand is pristine, which is why those that can afford to align with him clamour to do so," University of Southern California sports business professor David Carter told Forbes.

For the 22 years since he turned professional, Federer's career achievements have been the hallmark of legends.

He holds the record for the most Grand Slam men's singles titles (20) and the most weeks ranked at world No. 1 (310). He has also ranked in the top three for 750 consecutive weeks - nearly 15 years - and he had qualified for 18 out of 19 Slam finals from 2005 to 2010. ​


    Roger Federer (tennis)

    US$106.3 million (S$150 million)

    Cristiano Ronaldo (football)

    US$105 million

    Lionel Messi (football)

    US$104 million

    Neymar (football)

    US$95.5 million

    LeBron James (basketball)

    US$88.2 million

    Stephen Curry (basketball)

    US$74.4 million

    Kevin Durant (basketball)

    US$63.9 million

    Tiger Woods (golf)

    US$62.3 million

    Kirk Cousins (American football)

    US$60.5 million

    Carson Wentz (American football)

    US$59.1 million


    35 Basketball 31 American football 14 Football 6 Tennis 5 Boxing and mixed martial arts 4 Golf 3 Motor racing 1 baseball and cricket

And with three Slams in the past three years in his late 30s, it was hardly surprising that he broke another record on Friday.

But, amid the coronavirus pandemic that shut down sports worldwide, the Forbes list - which calculated the total income of the world's 100 top-paid athletes - saw a 9 per cent dip from last year to US$3.6 billion, the first decline since 2016.

Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo was second on the list at US$105 million, US$60 million in salary and US$45 million from endorsements, with Argentinian Lionel Messi - last year's top earner - third on US$104 million, US$32 million of that from sponsorship deals.

Messi and Ronaldo, who have traded the top spot three of the past four years, saw their combined incomes dip US$28 million from last year due to salary cuts when European clubs halted play in March.

Woods was eighth on the list and top among golfers at US$62.3 million, all but US$2.3 million from sponsor deals.

Among Federer's rivals, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic came in at No. 23 with US$44.6 million (US$32 million from endorsements), while Rafael Nadal ranked not far behind at No. 27 with US$40 million (US$26 million from endorsements).

The top 100 featured athletes from 21 nations and 10 sports.

More NBA players made the list than those from any other sport at 35, but 31 NFL players made the cut, up from 19 from last year.

Two women, tennis stars Naomi Osaka of Japan and Serena Williams of the United States, made the list, the most females on it since 2016.

Osaka ranked 29th on US$37.4 million (US$34 million from endorsements), four spots ahead of Williams (US$36 million, US$32 million from endorsements).


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 31, 2020, with the headline Tennis: Another historic milestone for Roger Federer as he tops Forbes rich list. Subscribe