The Australian Open has bowed to player pressure and increased prize money for early losers at the season's opening grand slam.
Tennis Australia announced in October the tournament would have a record purse and yesterday confirmed the major beneficiaries would be players who lose in the opening rounds having incurred the sizeable costs of travelling Down Under.
Prize money has been an issue for a while, with suggestions in August that leading male players could boycott the Melbourne event as a show of solidarity to those struggling to make a living from the game. But they are likely to be appeased following an increase for first-round losers of 32.7 per cent. The second-round losers' pot is up by 36.6 per cent, while those exiting at the third-round stage will bag an extra 30 per cent on last year's equivalent.
The title favourites are also set to benefit with both the men's and women's champion receiving Aus$2.43m dollars (£1.56m) – the biggest prize in the history of the sport. "Our motivation is to make a major contribution toward helping ensure professional tennis players can make a decent living," said the Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley. "It is a real issue and needs to be urgently addressed throughout the sport. That is why the biggest increases are in the earlier rounds, qualifying and doubles, which rewards lower-ranked players for achievements which should not be undersold.
"It is always a balance, which is why we undertook unprecedented consultation on this subject with the tours and players, who have been extremely supportive. There will be more increases during the next four years." The tournament starts on 14 January, with Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka defending champions.