Considering that they have won more than £107m in prize money between them, the casting of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray as shop stewards fighting the cause of their less well-off colleagues might seem unlikely. Nevertheless, Wimbledon revealed yesterday that it was partly on the recommendation of the Fab Four that it had decided on a significant redistribution of wealth at this summer's championships.
While the total prize fund will rise 10 per cent – the biggest increase for 19 years – to £16.1m, most of the extra cash will go to players who make an early exit. First-round singles losers, for example, will each earn £14,500, up 26.1 per cent on last year.
Overall, 420 of the 452 singles players will receive an increase in prize money of at least 13 per cent. The singles champions, meanwhile, will have to make do with £1.15m each, which at 4.5 per cent more than last year is still enough to beat inflation.
The changes run counter to the general trend since the turn of the century, which has seen more prize money enter the pockets of the most successful players. Between 2000 and 2011, the rewards for Wimbledon's singles champions rose by 120 per cent, compared with 53 per cent for first-round losers.
Wimbledon's increases, which are similar in emphasis to those announced by the French Open, come after several months of campaigning by the players. A bandwagon for change started at last year's US Open, where Murray and Nadal were particularly vocal about both the uneven distribution of prize money and the percentage of money paid to players at Grand Slam events in relation to the tournaments' revenues.
There was even talk of players striking, although Philip Brook, the Wimbledon chairman, said that was never mentioned when he met the top four at Indian Wells last month. Tim Henman accompanied him, which had been requested by the players.
Brook said the meeting has been "very constructive and professional". He added: "In those top four players we have people of quality and integrity who want to do the right thing for the sport. What we heard from them was not a request for more prize money for them, but they recognised this was an issue for the sport. They were there representing all the players on the tour. It is clear more needs to be done for lower-end players for whom the rising costs of professional tennis have out-stripped prize money."
While Brook rejected the suggestion that the changes reward failure – he stressed that those whose rankings earned them places in the qualifying tournament or main draw had already achieved much just to make it to the start line – the increases clearly boost what is already a major cash windfall for those players, most of them lower-ranked Britons, who rely on wild cards.
For example, Emily Webley-Smith, the current world No 316, earned £14,125 for her first-round defeats in the women's singles and doubles at the All England Club last summer. That was more than the 27-year-old Briton won in total from the 23 other tournaments in which she played during the year.
While the cash will flow, water is likely to be in shorter supply at Wimbledon this summer. Although the All England Club currently has an exemption from the hosepipe ban, it has already made contingency plans to bring in water by tanker if the situation worsens. Water consumption will also be cut by using more drought-tolerant plants and fewer hanging baskets around the grounds.
Play on all courts except Centre and No 1 will start half an hour earlier at 11.30am (the gates will still open at 10.30am), while Brook confirmed that a roof over No 1 Court was being considered as part of the club's long-term plans.
SW19 prize money
Champion £1.15m (4.5% increase)
Runner-up £575,000 (4.5%)
Semi-finalist £287,500 (4.5%)
Quarter-finalist £145,000 (5.5%)
4th-round loser £75,000 (9.1%)
3rd-round loser £38,875 (13.1%)
2nd-round loser £23,125 (14.9%)
1st-round loser £14,500 (26.1%)
Murray hurries through in straight sets
Andy Murray won his first match at the Barcelona Open yesterday, a straight-sets victory over the Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky. Murray, who received a bye through the first round, beat the world No 68 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and 18 minutes. He will next face Robin Haase or Santiago Giraldo.Reuse content