Tennis: Wimbledon prize-money breaks pounds 5m mark: All England Club to celebrate 100th women's singles championship, but without equal pay. John Roberts reports

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THE Wimbledon economy, which has remained healthy throughout the recession, is strong enough to break the pounds 5m barrier in prize-money on the 25th anniversary of the first open championships.

In 1968, the total prize-money was pounds 26,150. Rod Laver received pounds 2,000 and Billie Jean King pounds 750 as the respective singles champions. This summer's bonanza, announced yesterday, is pounds 5,048,450, an increase of 14 per cent on last year.

A cheque for pounds 305,000 awaits the winner of the men's singles title, and one for pounds 275,000 will go to the women's champion (first-round losers in this event will be paid pounds 3,545). Last year, Andre Agassi won pounds 265,000 and Steffi Graf pounds 240,000.

'When deciding the level of prize- money, it is necessary to take into account the impact of changes in international exchange rates,' John Curry, the chairman of the All England Club, said. 'Since last autumn, sterling has depreciated against the major currencies and this fact is reflected in the prize-money available this year.

'Over the last decade, prize-money on the international circuit has increased dramatically. In order for Wimbledon to retain its pre-eminence in the international tennis scene we must continue to offer the highest standard of facilities for players, the fans and the media, and a comparable level of prize-money.'

It is not only at the four Grand Slam championships that rewards have escalated. The men's IBM/ATP Tour and the women's Kraft Tour contribute enormously to the proliferation of millionaire players.

In February, 32 players competed for dollars 2.25m ( pounds 1.45m) at the ATP Tour Eurocard Open in Stuttgart. The first prize, dollars 355,000, was won by Michael Stich, of Germany. Stich received dollars 2m for playing four matches in winning the Grand Slam Cup in Munich in December, a 16-strong draw having qualified for the event at the four major championships. Stich, who won pounds 240,000 as the 1991 Wimbledon champion, said: 'I would be happier winning Wimbledon and getting dollars 10,000 than winning this tournament and getting dollars 2m.'

The Wimbledon chairman added the reminder yesterday that 'we have to weigh the fact that each year the surplus from the championships is used for the benefit of the sport.'

Since 1980, the All England Club has donated pounds 81.5m to the Lawn Tennis Association. Thanks to the debenture system, this cash flow is expected to continue in spite of Wimbledon's redevelopment plans, which may cost in excess of pounds 100m over 20 years. Few green shoots of British talent are evident as the LTA embarks on its latest five-year plan, costing pounds 63m.

This year's tournament is not only the 25th of the open era but also marks the 100th women's singles championship (though the centenary was celebrated in 1984, several years were lost due to the two world wars). The chairman's special guests will all be women, and for the first time a women's military band will play on Centre Court on both finals' days. But still the female players have not been granted what they want - equal pay with the men.

Wimbledon, in common with the French Open, maintains a differential because of the greater strength in depth in the men's game and also because the men play best-of-five-sets matches and the women best-of-three. The total prize-money for the men's events this year is pounds 2,679,985, compared with pounds 2,163,915 for the women.

If the All England Club was seeking support for its views, it came from a survey of 2,000 visitors to last year's championships interviewed in the queues and in the grounds. An average 71 per cent of those questioned said they preferred to watch men's matches and 74 per cent gave men's singles matches as their first choice (compared with 69 per cent when the last survey was made, in 1987).

The survey found that women visitors outnumbered men, six to four; that spectators were getting younger (54 per cent under 35 and 37 per cent between 35 and 55); and that of 65 per cent of visitors who play tennis themselves, the majority were likely to be those in the queues.

Nominations for the most exciting player in the world produced the following top 10: 1 Andre Agassi; 2 John McEnroe; 3 Stefan Edberg; 4= Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker; 6 Martina Navratilova; 7 Steffi Graf; 8= Henri Leconte and Monica Seles; 10= Jim Courier and Jeremy Bates.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WIMBLEDON PRIZE-MONEY AND PROFITS SINCE 1980 ----------------------------------------------------------------- YEAR PRIZE-MONEY MEN WOMEN PRE-TAX SURPLUS to LTA 1980 293,464 20,000 (B Borg) 18,000 (E Cawley) 420,810 1981 322,136 21,600 (J McEnroe) 19,440 (C Evert-Lloyd) 1,068,952 1982 593,366 41,667 (J Connors) 37,500 (M Navratilova) 1,530,585 1983 978,211 66,600 (J McEnroe) 60,000 (M Navratilova) 2,751,154 1984 1,461,896 100,000 (J McEnroe) 90,000 (M Navratilova) 4,252,193 1985 1,934,760 130,000 (B Becker) 117,000 (M Navratilova) 5,373,444 1986 2,119,780 140,000 (B Becker) 126,000 (M Navratilova) 6,200,848 1987 2,470,020 155,000 (P Cash) 139,500 (M Navratilova) 7,154,990 1988 2,612,126 165,000 (S Edberg) 148,500 (S Graf) 7,670,657 1989 3,133,749 190,000 (B Becker) 171,000 (S Graf) 9,202,486 1990 3,819,730 230,000 (S Edberg) 207,000 (M Navratilova) 9,620,856 1991 4,010,970 240,000 (M Stich) 216,000 (S Graf) 11,990,761 1992 4,416,820 265,000 (A Agassi) 240,000 (S Graf) 14,300,000 1993 5,048,450 305,000 -- 275,000 -- -- -----------------------------------------------------------------

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