Who Won Most at Roland Garros?


For two weeks every spring, the tennis world focuses its attention on Roland Garros - the Parisian center that hosts the French Open. This year, fans yawned as the dominant Serena Williams cruised to her 20th career major title in the 2015 French Open, defeating the 13th-ranked Czech Lucie Safarova. On the men's side, however, fans saw an actual contest, as the Swiss Stan Wawrinka used his devastating backhand to win his second tournament, upsetting top-ranked Novak Djokovic and denying him a career Grand Slam.  

Both winners claimed €1.8 million, or about $2 million, in prize money. But does that mean they actually take home that much? Certainly not. You may have heard about this thing called "taxes" that eat into our bounty. So let's take a look at those purses to see who really comes out ahead.  

Playing professional tennis isn't like signing a contract with a baseball or football team to collect a guaranteed salary. It's more like running a small business in which your "product" is winning tournaments. James Ward, currently ranked #101 in the world, put it well last year when he told International Business Times, "It's difficult…You're paying your own expenses, [as well as] your coach's…you're paying for your food, your hotel, your travel for two people. And if you lose in the first round, you're getting $300 minus tax. It's embarrassing. You've just got to win matches."  

James is exaggerating a little bit; first-round losers at the French Open get €27,000 (about $30,000) in addition to their walk of shame. But, after taxes, the money that winners are taking home will not be nearly as high as most people might think.  

For example, France takes the first slice of French Open winnings, and it's a big one. France's top tax rate is 45%, which is actually down from its 75% tax rate just two years ago. It's high enough that international athletes grumble about it publicly. Last year, Serena told Rolling Stone magazine, "Seventy-five percent doesn't seem legal. Nobody does anything because the government pays you to be broke. So why work?"  

Then Williams comes home, and the IRS serves up a maximum tax rate of 39.6%, plus a Medicare tax of 3.8% on top of that. (Fortunately, her home state of Florida doesn't impose an income tax!)  

Wawrinka, however, wins the Tax Bracket Open. He pays a maximum federal income tax of just 11.5% on income over $658,000. Then, his home canton of Vaud (similar to a state government in Switzerland) and his hometown of St. Barthélemy both lob more taxes at him. Total tax burdens in Switzerland can reach 40%, depending on where you live. Even so, Wawrinka squeaks out ahead of Williams.  

When it comes to tennis, how hard you hit the ball is important. But it also matters where you hit it, too. It works the same way with taxes. How much you make is key, but how you make it and even where you make it are equally important factors.