Wimbledon makes history with £1m prize for singles' champions

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The Independent Online

The rest of the world may be going through a major economic crisis but at Wimbledon the only downturn this summer will be in the number of spectators. At the same time as announcing a cut of 2,500 in the ground capacity to 37,500, the All England Club revealed yesterday that its men's and women's singles champions will each win £1m, the biggest prizes in Grand Slam history and £150,000 more than last year.

Wimbledon's total prize fund increases by 9.4 per cent to £13.73m, largely because of the pound's falling value. "Wimbledon exists in a highly-competitive global marketplace and it's the world's best players who create and drive the interest," Tim Phillips, the Wimbledon chairman, said. "It's important that we offer a level of prize money which is both appropriate to the prestige of the event and which gives the players full and fair reward."

Ian Ritchie, the Wimbledon chief executive, added: "We are in a virtuous circle. We are reinvesting and innovating and happily that is reflected in our income, so we can look after everyone a bit better."

The cut in spectator numbers is down to the fact that work on the new No 3 Court (on the site of the old No 2 Court) will not be completed until next year. Ritchie said the reduction in income would have "no palpable impact on our economics at all".

Under an agreement dating back to 1934 the All England Club hands its profits from the championships (more than £29m last year) to the Lawn Tennis Association. Given Wimbledon's success and the LTA's failure to develop a flow of world-class players – Britain are on the brink of relegation to the lowest tier of the Davis Cup and have only one player ranked in the men's top 150 – there are those who suggest the All England Club should have a bigger say in how the governing body spends the money.

Phillips, however, refused to be drawn into any such discussions, saying that Wimbledon was run by a tight team which needed to focus its energies on its own event rather than "trying to exert control over the LTA when we are not familiar with all the issues and all the difficulties".

This summer's championships, starting on 21 June, coincide with the football World Cup, but spectators hoping to combine a visit to the All England Club with watching matches from South Africa on the big screens will be disappointed. "This is a tennis tournament," Phillips said. "If you want to watch the football you can go to South Africa or watch it on television."

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal, who missed Wimbledon last summer with a knee injury, said yesterday that he had pulled out of this week's Barcelona Open in the hope of avoiding similar problems this year.

"I'm being as cautious as possible so that I can play the maximum amount possible," Nadal said. "I feel very good, but I don't want a repeat of what happened last year. For my tennis to be at the right level, I have to be physically well and that's my principal objective."

Belgium's leading female players Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin hope to play in front of the biggest tennis crowd in history on 8 July in an exhibition match at the 40,000-capacity Baudouin Stadium in Brussels to mark the opening of their country's six-month presidency of the European Union.

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