Barely Scraping By

Shortly before Bettany Mattek stepped onto Center Court to play Venus Williams last week, her business agent clinched a deal to earn her some extra money.

For $2,000, Mattek, 21, of Miami, allowed a seamstress to sew two patches across the front of her tennis outfit. One was the name of a chocolate brand, the other an Internet travel service.

The words, seen only fleetingly on television, were barely visible to the courtside spectators at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club, but they made a strong impression on Mattek's bank account.

Like the vast majority of players on the tour -- those who aren't regularly seen hoisting trophies over their heads or holding oversize checks at center court -- Mattek struggles to make ends meet.

"Any little bit helps," she told ABC News.com.

Because she wore long basketball socks and short shorts, her outfit created a controversy that overshadowed an uncomfortable fact: Mattek and dozens of players on the lower rungs of professional tennis scrape for extra dollars every day to survive financially.

Even Shenay Perry, in her seventh year as a pro and the last American to lose in singles, has averaged less than $65,000 a year.

In May, Katerina Bohmova, a 19-year-old Czech player, reportedly pleaded no contest to shoplifting about $450 worth of clothes and jewelry from a Jacksonville, Fla., department store. In her sixth year as a touring pro, Bohmova has averaged barely $21,000 per year in prize money, according to Women's Tennis Association records.

"For me, it's actually very tough," Mattek said. "Every once in a while you get to play in a big stadium like this -- Wimbledon's Center Court. It's wow, and cool. I mean [to play] the rest of the tournaments, it's a struggle."

In six months of competition this year, Mattek has won $62,002 in prize money. Her Wimbledon paycheck, for losing in the first round of singles, was $14,304, about $3,500 less than male players who lost in the first round received.

Would equal prize money for women make a difference?

"It definitely would help," she said. "It's really an expensive sport, especially for someone ranked around my ranking," 103rd in the world. "You're paying for coaches, paying for your own flights, and meals and everything."

Mattek is the first to point out that Wimbledon treats its players better than most tournaments do, extending generous per diems for meals, and free transportation within London.

Even so, the men's winner earns about $1.2 million, while the women's winner receives about $1.15 million.

Venus Williams won the women's purse last year and has campaigned for equal prize money for several years. Even though she's a millionaire, she insists it's simply a matter of principle.

"For us, it's not about becoming any more, you know, well off," she said. "It's really about an equality issue, about being created as equals, as human beings."

But for many women on the tour, it's not only the principle, it's the money, too. Some earn astonishingly less than an enterprising office worker in a big U.S. city.

As a result, the tour represents a forbidding investment for its participants. The risk of financial disaster is high.

Martina Navratilova, who has earned more than $20 million in prize money, suggests tournament promoters are greedy. She said equal prize money — and more prize money — would help avert disaster for players ranked below 100.

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