Kathy Horvath's official tennis career earnings were $220,905. Likely she was not pulling in much endorsement money or appearance fees. Currently, the median yearly salary for a neurosurgeon in the U.S. is about $350,000. Horvath will be 50 years old this year, so she would still have had a few more good years left in her career if she had taken the surgeon route. You do the math.
WHEN A YOUNG PRO SEES ONLY FROM BASELINE TO NET
The New York Times
February 17, 1985
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- JOHN BASSETT stood in the rear of the interview room clutching a single long-stemmed rose, a proud father watching his daughter speak to the news media about tennis in the same matter-of-fact way she might discuss her favorite music video with a friend.
Carling Bassett was dressed in a pink-and-salmon colored tennis warm-up suit. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, revealing two glittering silver earrings. She is 17 years old, but wise now in the ways of professional tennis, and feeling older than her years.
When she discussed her trepidation about facing the newer players, she referred to her own two-year experience on the tour in terms of ''when I was young and coming up.'' In the rear of the interview room, her parents laughed.
''They're laughing,'' Miss Bassett said in a gently scolding tone, ''because they still think I'm in the womb.''
It is generally accepted that parents are protective of their children, perhaps overly protective at times - trying to shelter them from some of life's harsh realities. But in the world of junior and professional tennis, the issue has become a question of whether the sport is exploiting its youth, with parents contributing to the process.
Tennis prodigies are being groomed for the professional tour too soon, according to critics such as Tracy Austin, Tim Mayotte and a parent, Erika Horvath, at the expense of a more balanced life and their physical well-being. Many parents, it is said, are motivated by dollar signs, not the best interests of their children. They celebrate the achievements of their children as if they were their own.
''I think it was my father's decision when I turned pro,'' said Jonathan Canter, who is 19 years old and has been struggling for two years on the tour. ''It was always Jonathan do this or Jonathan do that. It looked great to me, but my dad pushed me and my mom said, 'Oh, that's great.' ''
Agents are portrayed as striking bargains with the baby-faced baseliners they meet at the myriad junior tournaments that serve as professional auditions.
''Parents have money on their minds,'' Tracy Austin said, ''and agents are going up to 12-year-olds. I heard that a 10-year-old was approached.''
''I don't see the attitude in parents that mine had,'' said Martina Navratilova, the No. 1 player in the world. ''If I did my best, then it didn't matter if I won or lost. But now, it's win, win, win, at all costs.''
Bob Kain, a player representative in the tennis division of International Management Group who has represented Bjorn Borg and Miss Austin among others, said: ''We try to talk to the mom and dads to keep it in perspective. What have I got to say to a 12 or 13 year old?
''I don't care if a player is 14 or 16 years old, it's not because of agents that they're having problems. Agents are just telling the parents what's out there.
''But everyone wanted to throw the blame on someone. Some agents may try to be buddy, buddy with kids a little too early.''
Tennis is a sport in which teen-agers are capable of excelling at the highest level, especially women, who reach physical maturity more quickly than men. Even among the men, there has been a recent influx of youth - including such players as Jimmy Arias, Boris Becker, Aaron Krickstein and Stefan Edberg - because this is a game that emphasizes technique over brute force. Thus, the importance of size is diminished.
Still, the physical stress placed on the developing body of a teen-ager who practices several hours every day may be taking its toll in injuries. There are no statistics or studies to document the stress but many people involved with tennis see an increase in injuries. Prominent female players such as Miss Austin, Andrea Jaeger and Pam Shriver have been chronically hurt. Erika Horvath, whose daughter, Kathy, has had a fair amount of success but also has had injury problems, laments that she allowed her daughter to play so much tennis.
''As a mother who has a frail 8- or 9-year-old daughter like we did, I should have discouraged Kathleen from playing four or five hours a day,'' Mrs. Horvath said. ''But once a child tastes success, she's trapped. To win, you have to work hard.''
At the inaugural Lipton International Players Championships held here for the past two weeks, several novices have advanced to the later rounds against seasoned players.
Among them, Steffi Graf, a 15-year- old from West Germany, lost in the semifinal to Chris Evert Lloyd. Mary Joe Fernandez, a 13-year-old from Miami, advanced to the fourth round before losing to Hana Mandlikova.
In her postmatch interviews, Miss Fernandez, who is in the eighth grade, said that her breakthough in this tournament would not change her thinking about the future. ''I am planning to go to college,'' she said. ''School is more important to me.''
But Gigi Fernandez, who is 20 years old and currently Miss Navratilova's doubles partner, envisions complications for Mary Joe Fernandez's plans.
''People are always looking for a fresh new face,'' she said. ''The promoters and sponsors of tournaments will give Mary Joe a wild card into events. She may never go to college. She'll be happy to finish high school.''
There is more concern voiced by the women than the men about the impact of competitive tennis on the young because women tend to turn professional at a younger age and - with the injuries suffered by Miss Shriver, Miss Austin and Miss Jaeger - appear to pose a greater problem.
The Eligibility Commission of the International Tennis Federation has heard comments from parents such as Mrs. Horvath and coaches and has recommended that several rules changes be considered. One would prohibit a player from turning professional before the age of 16. Another would limit the number of tournaments those under age 16 could enter.
The parents and coaches recommended that there be no international tournaments for players 12 years of age and under. They also asked that rankings for those players be eliminated.
The recommendations have only fueled the controversy. Miss Austin, for example, said she does not believe that any organization should place restrictions on players. ''It's up to the parents to make sure their kid's life is balanced and not one-dimensional,'' she said.
Kathy Horvath, who is 19 years old said that tennis provided her with an activity and purpose in life. ''After school, the kids would be hanging out at the mall with drugs,'' she said. ''I gave up going to a dance, but I came home with a trophy.''
Mrs. Lloyd favors limiting the number of tournaments for young players but questions the legality of such a rule. ''You can't prevent anyone from earning a living,'' she said. ''Still, it's important to stay in school.''
The Women's Tennis Association is offering college correspondence courses to help players further their education. Seminars are held to counsel players about their responsibilities to the sport and how to deal with agents, sponsors and the news media. Miss Austin said she would gladly be part of a player's committee that would counsel junior players about what lies ahead.
But some of the younger players on the tour are taking correspondence courses just to finish high school, and have no desire to continue their education. Even those with good intentions find it difficult to study when they are concentrating on tennis. Those traveling around the world with a coach or a parent still get homseick.
''Even the most seasoned pros do,'' said Shawn Foust, a 17-year-old amateur who is trying to decide whether to become a professional. ''But when you're young and good enough, you've got to turn pro. You can't put tennis on hold.''
Becker, a 17-year-old from West Germany, argued that while his classmates at home are reading about the United States, he has an opportunity to receive a first-hand education.
Yet after he was eliminated in an early round of the tournament here last week, Becker confined himself to the tennis grounds, waiting to move on to the next stop on the tour. Players find refuge in a hotel room and escape with the stereo headsets they wear like clothing.
''It's so lonely it's scary,'' Canter said. ''I know they say it's lonely at the top, but that's a good feeling because you think you're invincible. And there's only one John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.
''For the rest, there is a lot of bitterness, envy and jealousy on the tour. I like the guys but we all stand in one another's way. I can't go out drinking with them and talking about girls and tennis. You just lose and go back to the hotel room alone.''
''The first year, especially, is very difficult,'' said Mayotte, who went to Stanford University for three years before turning professional. ''I'm 24 years old and it hasn't been until the last year and a half that I've felt comfortable. You can go to museums and things but you're really in a city to play tennis. You become very focused.''
Mayotte kept a diary of his travels last year that was recently published in Tennis magazine. What was revealing was how much he wrote about tennis, rather his favorite diversions. ''It's frightening and sad,'' he said. ''You become so self-indulgent. I even have a hard time reading.
''Still, it blows my mind when we travel to an exciting city like Paris and the guys say 'TV stinks here. There's nothing to do.' I've had exposure to other things and frankly, it's hard for me to find a lot of peers on the tour, guys to share conversations with on the same level.''
Gigi Fernandez said that she recently enrolled in a creative writing course offered by the W.T.A. because she thought she was suffering from mental atrophy on the tour. ''It's kind of boring going a day not learning anything,'' she said. ''But it's hard to tell a 13-year-old to read a newspaper or watch the news. Younger kids don't understand. When we play Trivial Pursuit on the tour, you find out just who went to school.''
Instead of cautioning their children against unrealistic expectations, some parents are driven by the thoughts of money, glamour and fame. Tennis lessons and a coach can cost $10,000 a year, Mrs. Horvath said, and there are those who may push their child on the pro tour to justify the expense.
''But with us it was never a thought about the money,'' she said. ''You just become so involved. I'd be a liar if I said I did not enjoy Kathleen's wins and taking her everywhere. She was 15 when she became a professional. It was like having a bright child in school who you advanced a grade. But I realize now her life was too one- sided.''
On occasion, Mrs. Horvath said, she told her daughter: ''give me your racquets, I'll crack them in two.'' But her daughter always refused.
''I had put too much work into tennis,'' Kathy Horvath said. ''When I was growing up I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, and even though some people think I haven't done much since I turned pro, I'd have to be a damn good surgeon to make what I'm making.
''I know that I pushed myself too hard at times,'' Miss Horvath added. ''When I was 10 years old, I wanted to play every day. If it snowed, I'd be upset. Now, I take every Sunday off and feel refreshed. But my mother thinks I'm frail like all mothers think their kids are frail. Even Martina's mother must say, 'my poor little Martina.'''
Jonathan Canter said he wished his father were more sympathetic. When he was 14 years old, Jonathan was the youngest player to earn points in the Association of Tennis Professional rankings. The tennis computer ranks him 141st now. He played the piano, composed music and was intrigued by computers, but he did none of those things as well as he played tennis. He said he felt he never had a choice.
''My father, Stan, played at U.C.L.A. when he was in college,'' Canter said. He was a good player and still plays three hours a day. But he was living through me and when I would succeed, it was as if his child had nothing to do with it.
''It took a while for me to tell him how I felt,'' Canter said. ''I said, 'Dad, there is only one way you can help me. Don't say anything. I love you but the only way I can succeed is if I can relax.' So many kids win for their parents' love. And I was under pressure to please my parents.''
Dr. Herb Krickstein, whose son Aaron developed into a world-class player in 1983 when he was 16, said, that parents must often give their children a push in the right direction. If his son was unsure about playing tennis or had been gifted in school, said Dr. Krickstein, who is a pathologist, then he would not have allowed him to become a pro.
''A parent's opinion is mandatory,'' he said. ''If Aaron were having conflicts, it would have been wrong to push him, just like it would have been wrong to want him to become a physician. You know, a lot of kids go to college and don't do so well.
''But in this competitive world, if you go halfway on something, it won't work. The life of a pro is getting shorter and shorter on the high end. If you wait too long, you can miss out on the opportunity.''
Krickstein's tennis education was speeded up when his father enrolled him in Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Bollettieri is a controversial figure in the sport, a coach whose strict school is considered a farm system for the pros.
Bollettieri has become a wealthy man because many parents have sent their children to him in preparation for a professional career. Among his students are Krickstein, Jimmy Arias, Miss Horvath, Miss Bassett and Lisa Bonder. ''So many see the pot of gold,'' he said. ''But for every one I've turned pro, we get 37 or 38 kids college scholarships.''
The children live at the academy year round.They attend classes in the morning and have scheduled social functions such as dances, parties and outings. Still, Bollettieri makes no pretense that tennis is what they are here to learn.
''I talk to them every other week about education and how I feel it's the most important thing,'' he said. ''But it's not for me to judge what the parents are doing. It's easy to say what you would do until you have a 14- or15-year-old child who is offered a three-year contract for $1 million. Then you make a decision.''
What Bollettieri does in his private tennis academy, many countries are now doing through their national federations. In Europe, gifted players become full-time tennis students when they are 11 and 12 years of age.
The success of Sweden's program is an illustration. A country with a small population, it has produced seven world-class tennis players through a national program that has thrived off the popularity and success of Bjorn Borg.
''Tennis has become a tremendous business,'' Bollettieri said, ''and parents are realizing the rewards. It's tough to stop once the ball is rolling.''
But it appears that better guidelines for players and parents are needed in a sport that has grown so quickly. More studies might be commissioned, for instance, to determine the physical risk a youngster takes when he or she practices for several hours a day.
Ultimately, however, the decision rests with the tennis prodigy and the parents. Tennis is an international sport and one country's mores cannot be imposed on another. One parent's beliefs cannot be legislated for the majority.
''There is a time to be one-dimensional in your life, to be the best you can be at something,'' Mayotte said. ''If you do something well, it's an inspiration for others to do it well. But it should be a conscious choice.
''And when you're 16 or 17, you just don't know. You're believing everything that you're fed. And parents are believing it, too.''