Roger Federer earned NZ$170m over the last 12 months. Photo credit: Getty

Tennis: Roger Federer ranked by Forbes as sports' top earner

Tennis star Roger Federer is the world's highest-paid athlete for 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic knocked footballer Lionel Messi off top spot, according to the annual Forbes list released on Saturday (NZ time). 

The Swiss tennis great, owner of a men's record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, earned US$106.3million (NZ$170m) in the last 12 months, including US$100m (NZ$161m)via endorsements, to move up four places and become the first player from his sport to top the list.

Last year, Federer earned NZ$141m. 

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Football stars Cristiano Ronaldo (NZ$169m) , Messi (NZ$167m)  and Neymar (NZ$154m) and American basketball player LeBron James (NZ$142m) rounded out the top five.

"The coronavirus pandemic triggered salary cuts for football stars Messi and Ronaldo, clearing the way for a tennis player to rank as the world's highest-paid athlete for the first time," said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor at Forbes.

"Roger Federer is the perfect pitchman for companies, resulting in an unparalleled endorsement portfolio of blue-chip brands worth $100m a year for the tennis great."

Japan's Naomi Osaka US$37.4 million (NZ$61.3m), who was ranked 29th on the list, surpassed fellow tennis player Serena Williams as the world's highest-earning female athlete, earning US$1.4 (NZ$2.3m) more than American grea.

Basketball players led all sports with 35 players among the top 100. American football occupied 31 spots, none higher than six-times Super Bowl champion Tom Brady ($NZ$71m)) who was ranked 25th.

Football was the next most represented sport with 14 players, followed by tennis (six), boxing and mixed martial arts (five), golf (four), motor racing (three), and baseball and cricket with one each.

Kiwi NBA star Steven Adams, who was ranked 78th last year, did not feature on this years list. 

Top 10 highest paid athletes ($NZ):

Roger Federer - tennis ($170m)
Cristiano Ronaldo - football ($169m)
Lionel Messi - football ($167m)
Neymar - football ($154m)
LeBron James - basketball ($142m)
Steph Curry - basketball ($119m)
Kevin Durrant - basketball ($102m)
Tiger Woods - golf ($100m)
Kirk Cousins  American fotball ($97.5m)
Carson Wentz - American football (95m)