Swiss tennis player Roger Federer has become the first ever tennis star to top the annual World’s Highest-Paid Athletes by Forbes with his $106.3 million earnings before taxation.
The 38-year-old tennis star went against the norm and topped the 2019 list, rising up four places from fifth position the previous year.
Football players Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar were ranked second, third and fourth respectively having earned $105 million, $104 million and $95.5 million in 2019.
Kurt Badenhausen, a senior editor at Forbes, told journalists in an interview that the Covid-19 pandemic had partly contributed to Federer’s accomplishment when it led to salary cuts for Ronaldo and Messi. That, however, does little to take the shine off the 20-time Grand Slam champion whose brand appeal seems to be on an upward trajectory.
Both on and off the court, Federer continues to attract top brands. For instance, the Match For Africa charity event in February - in which he played against his rival and friend, Rafael Nadal in Cape Town, South Africa - broke the record for the most number of tickets sold for a tennis event. Among those who graced the court were Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, and Trevor Noah, the South African host of The Daily Show.
Like Noah, Federer’s mother is South African and his father, Swiss. In total, 51,954 people bought tickets for the game, raising $3.7 million (about Sh380 million) for the Roger Federer Foundation.
Last year alone, Federer earned $100 million through endorsements from brands like Rolex and Mercedes Benz. His prize money stood at $6.3 million.
In 2018, he parted ways with Nike in favour of the Japanese apparel maker, Uniqlo, signing a deal worth $300 million over a ten-year period. The deal, signed when he was approaching 37, was a pointer that Federer’s brand was likely to outlive his time on the court.
In 2019, Messi was ranked as the most highly-paid sportsman in a list dominated by fellow footballers Ronaldo and Neymar. Boxer Canelo Alvarez was ranked fourth, above Federer.
There was no woman in the list of top ten best-earning sportspeople. In this year's list, Naomi Osaka, also a tennis star, was ranked as the highest-paid female athlete. She earned $37.4 million in the year, about a third of Federer's income, making her the 29th best paid athlete. The difference in earnings highlights the income inequalities between male and female athletes. It was a good year for tennis stars as Serena William was the second highest-earning female athlete.
Osaka overtook Serena on account of a deal she signed with Nike, which netted her over $10 million.
According to CBS Sports website, as a group, the 100 highest earning athletes collectively made $3.6 billion over the past one year, a nine percent decline from the preceding year.