Equal prize money at Australian Open

The Australian Open said today it will offer equal prize money for the men's and women's tennis draws next year, joining the US Open as the only Grand Slams to do so.

The Australian Open said today it will offer equal prize money for the men's and women's tennis draws next year, joining the US Open as the only Grand Slams to do so.

Tennis Australia president Geoff Pollard said players will compete for a tournament record prize pool of US $7.5 million, an 11.5 percent increase on last year's total.

The men's prize money has been increased by 10 percent and the women's by 15.8 percent. Winners of the men's and women's singles crowns will now each earn US $450,000.

There were complaints from women players five years ago when Australian Open organizers scrapped their equal pay policy.

"The Women's Tennis Association has been suggesting it for the past couple of years, we've gradually been heading back to equal prize money," Pollard said.

Bart McGuire, chief executive of the WTA tour, said the decision was important move to recognize the strength and appeal of the women's tour.

"Equalizing prize money at the Grand Slams is a major goal," said McGuire. "It is a goal that we have preferred to approach through persuasion and diplomacy rather than through more aggressive means.

"Tennis Australia has responded very positively to our approach, and to the fact that women's tennis has generated record attendance and extraordinary worldwide publicity, as well as dramatically increased television coverage and television ratings."

Top-ranked women's player Martina Hingis said the Australian Open decision is a boost for the game.

"We have all been working on achieving equal prize money for a while and it is great that at the turn of the century, progress has been made," said Hingis. "It is something we deserve and I appreciate that the Australian Open has done this."

American Lindsay Davenport was one of the most vocal critics of higher purses for men at the Grand Slams.

"I think it's great that the Australian Open has gone back to equal prize money," said Davenport. "Women's tennis has certainly proven that it is worth it."

Judy Levering, president of the United States Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, called it a "monumental and necessary decision."

"The US Open has awarded equal prize money for 27 years in the belief that the women's game is just as exciting and as entertaining as the men's game," said Levering. "I know our colleagues Down Under feel the same way. It is a great day for the game."

Earlier this year, Wimbledon rejected women's demands for equal pay when it announced new prize money amounts. The women's overall purse is 84 percent of the men's figure, a move that was heavily criticized by women's tour officials and players.

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