Top players increase pressure on ‘majors’ to raise prize money
Neil Harman Tennis Correspondent, Key Biscayne, Florida
In a move that could have far-reaching consequences for the future pay of the world’s leading professionals, the grand-slam tournaments have met the four top-ranked players in the men’s game to discuss the revenue share at future championships, The Times has learnt. Roger Federer, the president of the ATP player council, along with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, talked to representatives of the “majors” in an attempt to avert the prospect of a boycott of one of the leading events, which has become a much-discussed player tactic. The French Open delegation has become increasingly anxious that any revolt will affect its field in May.
Alarmed at the levels of acrimony among the men, who are pressing for a greater share of the revenue of the grand-slam events — about 12 to 15 per cent — each of the four sent emissaries to Indian Wells, California, last week to try to reach a resolution. They were: Philip Brook, the chairman of the All England Club, in the company of Tim Henman, who is a member of the management committee; Gilbert Ysern, the French Open tournament director, with Guy Forget, who has taken over as tournament director of the Paris Masters; Gordon Smith, the USTA executive director; and Steve Wood, the chief executive of Tennis Australia, with Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director.
About 60 ATP players met at the tournament site at the Sony Ericsson Open on Wednesday night and although they left frustrated at being given no information, they at least know their voices are being channelled through the quartet who have taken the men’s game to a new plane. “I believe it’s a winner’s tour, so the money is there for everyone to play for, but at the same time we wish that the lower rounds would also get a bigger raise,” Federer said recently. “Obviously, it’s an important task for the council and the board to make sure all the lower rounds get more in the future.”
The pressure on the grand-slam tournaments to enhance their prize- money levels increased last week when the BNP Paribas Open, in Indian Wells, bankrolled by Larry Ellison, the billionaire, raised its prize money and paid its champions, Federer and Victoria Azarenka, $1 million each (about £632,000 before tax). There have also been substantial round-by-round increases in recent years.
As an example, in the past ten years Indian Wells has improved the money it pays its champions by 137.2 per cent and those who lose in the first round have received an 86.7 per cent increase in the same time-frame. The Australian Open has undergone a 103.9 per cent increase for the champions and those in the first round have seen their remuneration go up 23.1 per cent. It is figures such as these that make the grand-slam events vulnerable.
In a recent study in USA Today, it was revealed that in the 20 years since the inception of the ATP Tour, the wealth disparity between players ranked in the top 100 has never been greater. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, who have largely shared the top three ranking spots since 2007, have banked a greater proportion of prize money than any previous trio, taking between 20 per cent and 26 per cent of available prize money for the past five years. Any deal that is done with the men will affect the women, who receive equal prize money at the four grand-slam tournaments.
Levels of attainment
£14.6m The amount Wimbledon paid in prize money in 2011. It is estimated that the tournament brings in £120 million
£1.1m The amount the men’s and women’s singles winners received in 2011
$80.1m Total ATP Tour prize money in 2011, up from $33.8 million in 1990
$7,709 The amount first-round losers picked up at Indian Wells this year, an increase of 8 per cent. The winner’s cheque was $1 million, up 64 per cent
€1.2m The amount the French Open paid its champions in 2011, compared with €15,000 for first-round losers.