AUSTRALIAN Open prizemoney is expected to swell to $40 million by 2016 as the stakes continue to rise in the remuneration battle between the grand slams and the men hungry for a larger slice of the expanding financial pie.
Just days after Tennis Australia announced an almost 18 per cent rise in the prize pool for the 2013 event to ward off the threat of a boycott, The Age has learnt that players have been advised that what will hit $30 million in January is likely to grow by a further $10 million within three years. In 2007, the total purse was $20 million.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley would not confirm the $40 million figure, but reiterated the tournament's commitment to adequately compensate all players, but particularly those ranked 50 and below who often struggle financially once travelling and coaching expenses are factored in. ''As a sport, that's not good enough, and we're all responsible for that - the grand slams, the tours, the ITF,'' Tiley said.
TA officials met with the ATP Player Council - including its president, Roger Federer - and board of management in Shanghai over recent days for what Tiley described as ''very positive'' talks with a group that he believes is ''the most united that I've seen it in 20 years''. Still, the ATP is adamant that the Australian Open's increased financial commitment is merely a starting point, as Federer confirmed during a news conference at the Shanghai Rolex Masters on Sunday.
''It's nice to see the grand slams talking to us, feel sort-of partners out there,'' Federer said. ''Nothing is clear from this end. It was good to see the Australian Open making their move, showing that they truly care about us, the players. Now we'll see where it takes us from here.''
Last week, reigning Australian Open champion and world No. 2 Novak Djokovic also welcomed the bigger purse, while warning that the players remained committed to winning a greater share of grand slam revenues. TA, meantime, insists it will not offer a fixed share of its income, although in 2013, the figure would be close to 20 per cent.
''I think they are talking in terms of everyone, so that's not a reference to the Australian Open, and I think that's consistent with what they've been saying throughout the year,'' Tiley said. ''We're satisfied we've had our conversation and the feedback we've got from the player council and the playing group is that they're very happy with our position, our approach, and most importantly our attitude towards this uplift. And we've made it clear that this is not something that's new for us. In the last five years we've been pretty aggressive with compensation.''
The distribution formula is still to be finalised, in conjunction with the WTA, whose leadership will be consulted at the year-end championships in Istanbul later this month. But Tiley confirmed that although all Australian Open participants would gain a share of the riches, a greater percentage would go to those losing in the first week, in an attempt to assist the rank-and-file players.
''One of the things we mentioned to the council is that if you're a player ranked around 40 in the world for 10 years, and you retire at 31, at some point you're going to have to go and start a second career,'' Tiley said. ''Now for someone who's been for 10 years the 40th best player in the profession, that should be their career, and even though they're not playing they should be able to leverage and live off the success they had during that period.''
Meantime, security here has been tightened after a bizarre online death threat made last week against Federer, who has a first round bye and is seeded to meet US Open champion Andy Murray in the semi-finals. Australian No. 1 Bernard Tomic today plays German Florian Mayer for the right to play Murray, Lleyton Hewitt meets fellow veteran Radek Stepanek and Victorian qualifier Marinko Matosevic faces in-form 12th seed Milos Raonic of Canada.
■Top seed Samantha Stosur has launched her quest for a second Japan Open crown with an emphatic first-round win over Erika Sema.
Stosur, who won the tournament in 2009, hit five aces and converted five of six break points to win 6-4, 6-2.
The 2011 US Open champion will play either Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano or a qualifier for a place in the quarter-finals.
Fellow Australian Casey Dellacqua also progressed to the second round with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win over Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm.
■World No. 2 Novak Djokovic overcame Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in straight sets to win the ATP Tour's China Open for a third time.
The 25-year-old Serb beat the world No.7 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 to maintain his unbeaten record at the ATP 500 tournament in Beijing and take the winner's prize of $520,400.
Djokovic won the China Open in 2009 and 2010 before he missed last year because of injury, and his record at the tournament now stands at 14-0.
Linda Pearce is a guest of the Shanghai Rolex Masters.