sport

Melbourne prize money upped

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 today confirmed the major beneficiaries would be players who lose in the opening rounds having incurred the sizeable costs of travelling Down Under.

The issue of prize money has been bubbling under for a while, with suggestions in August that leading male players could boycott the Melbourne event as a show of solidarity for 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%, the second-round losers' pot is up by 36.6% while those exiting at the third-round stage will bag an extra 30% on last year's equivalent.

The title favourites are also set to benefit with both the men's and women's champion receiving 2.43million Australian dollars - 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 Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley.

"As we have said in the past, 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 in effect rewards a lot of the lower-ranked players for their achievements which, by the way, should not be undersold.

"To just reach the main draw of a slam, a professional tennis player has to be among the top 100 in what is one of, if not the most, competitive professional sport in the world.

"At the same time we also still want to continue to recognise the incredible drawing power and contribution of the top players.

"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.

"We will not be stopping here. There will be more talks and more increases during the next four years. This is just a very positive first step."

The Australian Open starts on January 14 with Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka in line to defend their titles.