Sampras eyes on pounds 392,500 prize

Wimbledon have raised the stakes by offering ever higher rewards for the annual extravaganza. John Roberts reports
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The Independent Online
Today's successful players become so wealthy so fast that by their early twenties they can really afford to say that the quest for Grand Slam titles means more to them than the prize money.

The 24-year-old Pete Sampras, already the biggest prize winner in the sport's history with almost pounds 15m, will add pounds 392,500 to his fortune in July if he wins the Wimbledon men's singles title for a fourth consecutive year.

When Bjorn Borg achieved that feat in 1979, he received pounds 20,000 - pounds 7,500 less than this year's increase - and the same the following year after making it five in a row (pounds 86,500 for the lot). Borg considered he had done well enough to retire less than two years later, and players have continued to profit along with the All England Club.

In each of the past two years, the championships have generated pounds 27.9m, pre-tax, for the development of the British game, and yesterday it was announced that the total prize money for this year's tournament had been increased by 7.3 per cent to pounds 6,465,910.

Wimbledon continues to pay women less than men, although this year's women's singles champion will hardly go hungry on pounds 353,000, a pounds 25,000 increase on Steffi Graf's purse last July.

Women are still given parity at the United States Open, which is offering a record $600,000 (pounds 408,000) to each singles champion at this year's championship, at the end of August, and a total of $10,894m, an increase of more than 10 per cent.

The sale of debenture seats enables Wimbledon to fund ground improvements. The most spectacular example, a new No 1 Court for 1997, has taken shape. Yesterday, John Curry, the All England Club chairman, performed a topping out ceremony with the constructors.

Players in the lower reaches of the Davis Cup will have to get used to playing without the "let" service call if the International Tennis Federation adopts a recommendation to its annual meeting in June. It would mean that "let" serves which land in will have to be played, and those which land out will count as faults.

The Davis Cup committee is seeking a two-year experiment eliminating the "let" serve for all zonal ties in groups three and four (Britain, incidentally, are in Group 2 of the Euro/African Zone ).

A two-year study concluded that 85 per cent of "lets" allowed no advantage to either player, 10 per cent gave the server an advantage and 5 per cent were of benefit to the receiver.

The ITF will also consider a proposal allowing Davis Cup captains the free use of substitutes on the third day of ties, irrespective of whether the match is still live or not. Currently, substitutions can only be made when a player is injured or ill. "It would get rid of phoney medical certificates," Thomas Hallberg, the Davis Cup director, said.

The Swedish Tennis Association has been fined pounds 3,500 for "alleged derogatory statements" made by team leaders during the 5-0 Davis Cup win against India in Calcutta.

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