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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk

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Wimbledon wildcard offers big opportunity for Baker

Jo Carter June 17, 2012
Jamie Baker prepares to play a forehand © PA Photos
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Rafael Nadal's unbeaten streak may have come to an end in Halle this week, but the Spaniard has passed $50,000,000 in prize money.

The likes of Nadal and Roger Federer are global superstars and enjoy a millionaire's lifestyle, thanks to the large prize money on offer, not to mention lucrative sponsorship deals for tennis' top stars. But the gulf between the sport's elite and the rest has been thrown into the limelight this week, with Janko Tipsarevic calling for a radical overhaul of tennis prize money.

Nadal just pocketed a cool $1.5m for winning his seventh French Open, but for a player ranked outside the world's top 50, it is a very different story.

"For me, the biggest problem in the sport at the moment is the average salary of a tennis player," Tipsarevic said in his column for The Tennis Space. "You have guys at the very top who are making a lot of money...but for the guys are top 200 the average salary is way too low."

Tipsarevic points to golf as a comparison, where 94 players made more than $1 million in prize money last year, compared to just 25 on the ATP Tour.

"You sacrifice so much to play tennis as a career, all the travelling, so many weeks a year. The money is just ridiculously low if you compare it to other individual sports. If you are a player ranked about 100, if you stay about 80 or 90, I would say that you would not lose money, but you would not make any money either."

It is ironic that tennis is enjoying a golden era - largely thanks to the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - whose dominance has perhaps led to the current gulf in earnings.

"I would see myself to be somebody that works hard, but to have exposure to what Murray's doing has helped me massively"

While golf has shared the wealth in recent years - since 2008 we have seen 16 different major winners, while between them Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 28 of the last 29 slams.

The plight of the lower-ranked player was highlighted by Jamie Baker, who after his first-round win over Oliver Golding at the AEGON Championships, was delighted to learn he had earned a wildcard at Wimbledon.

For British players, the chance to play in the main draw at the All England Club is more than just the chance to play on the big stage against the world's best, it is a huge financial boost for a player whose ranking does not qualify them for the grand slams.

This year, the prize money at Wimbledon is £16.1 million, and while the men and women's singles champions will see a healthy 4.5% increase as they win £1.15 million each, the first round loser at Wimbledon will pick up £14,500 - a hefty three grand more than last year.

Not a small sum of money, and one victory at Wimbledon is worth £23,125. For Baker, who is not on a Team AEGON contract - the highest level of financial support from the LTA - receiving undisclosed financial payments worth up to £75,000 a year, it is the chance for a big pay day.

Janko Tipsarevic believes the salary of the average tennis player is too low © Getty Images
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"The ultimate goal for me has always been to get to a point where I can actually make a living for myself out of tennis and not be dependent on asking for money from other people to have the best possible programme," Baker said.

"For me to do that, the magic number is 100. That would get you into four grand slams, which is £15,000 to £20,000 a time. You wouldn't need to be asking for any other money than that, so that is the goal but I think a step at a time."

The 25-year-old, who is set to break into the world's top 200 for the first time in his career, has endured his fair share of setbacks. After qualifying for the 2008 Australian Open, he was struck down with a blood disorder and was lucky to survive, let alone get back on the tennis courts.

"It is amazing how quickly you go back into a kind of a normal mindset where you kind of almost forget that that happened, but every now and again, somebody, if I don't remind myself quickly enough, somebody else will," he said of his health scare.

"I felt like I had huge momentum and was playing extremely well, so that was part of my frustrations. When I started playing again, I realised how tough it was going to be to actually get my fitness back. I was on the court, but, I mean, my body had been knocked to the floor basically."

Baker, who was beaten by world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round at Queen's, knows it will not be a quick fix. But having been ranked as low as No. 982 in July 2009, Baker has slowly made his way up the world standings - largely travelling around on the Challenger Tour.

He spent the off-season training with Andy Murray, but while Murray and co were enjoying the glitz and glamour of the Monte Carlo Masters back in April, Baker was in Mexico winning a Futures event, pocketing a mere $1,950 for his troubles.

But Baker admits he is fortunate to have been handed a wildcard for Wimbledon; most players ranked outside the top 100 will have to come through three rounds of qualifying to earn their place in the main draw.

"It's massive," Baker said. "I mean, we're so lucky to be from a nation that has a grand slam tournament. I never say I'm lucky to get a wildcard, because my ranking is not lucky, but definitely very fortunate to be British and very fortunate that we get opportunities to play in a tournament where our ranking doesn't get us in in itself."

Baker has never won a match at the All England Club, but he believes the hard yards he put in with Murray in Miami at the end of 2011 has been a major boost.

"Being aware of what he actually puts in and what is a relevant level for someone who is pushing the boundaries of the game," he said. "I would see myself to be somebody that works hard, but to have exposure to what he's doing has helped me massively."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk