AUSTRALIAN OPEN tournament director Craig Tiley has flagged a record first-round losers' cheque of at least $27,000 - a rise of almost 30 per cent - at next month's grand slam, as the distribution details for the unprecedented $30 million prizemoney pool move closer to being finalised.
Consultations are continuing with the ATP and WTA over the breakdown of the rises, which will deliver the biggest percentage increases to players eliminated in the first three rounds. Women's No.2 Maria Sharapova is one leading player to have questioned the idea of inflating the rewards for those who fail to win a match, but Tennis Australia is committed to easing the financial pressure on those ranked 80th and below.
On Monday, Tiley said the winner of this week's wildcard playoff could expect to earn ''above $27,000'' for contesting the January 14 to 27 tournament. This year, players eliminated in the first round at Melbourne Park got $20,800, compared with $22,163 at the French Open, $22,168 at Wimbledon and $21,954 at the US Open (based on current conversion rates).
The playoff has been tweaked this year to more closely replicate the Australian Open format, with a knockout rather than round-robin system, and slam-style best-of-five-set matches. On Monday, rising teenage star Nick Kyrgios toppled top seed Sam Groth 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the only upset of the first round.
The powerful 189-centimetre Kyrgios, 17, is the world's fourth-ranked junior and shared the French and Wimbledon boys doubles titles with Victorian Andrew Harris this year. He backed-up from Sunday's three-set success in the final of the 18s Australian championship against close friend Thanasi Kokkinakis, nagging knee soreness notwithstanding.
''Obviously I'm not feeling 100 per cent but I knew if I played my game right, served well, I knew I was going to get my opportunities on his serve, and that's what I did,'' said Kyrgios, who played with great composure in the windy conditions against the far more seasoned Groth, the first of his five service breaks coming in the opening game. ''My game revolves around a lot of energy, and trying to get underneath the other player's skin, and I thought I did that well today, and I thought I played the big points well.''
Kyrgios will next play Matthew Barton, who eliminated Kokkinakis, while second seed John-Patrick Smith meets Greg Jones, who recovered from a two-sets-to-love deficit against Michael Look. No.5 Ben Mitchell will face No.4 Adam Feeney, both straight sets winners, and former Wimbledon junior champion Luke Saville advanced past Andrew Whittington into the path of Matt Reid, who was taken the distance by young Jacob Grills.
The women's tournament starts on Tuesday, with 116th-ranked Olivia Rogowska the top seed, and 2011 winner Ash Barty favoured to met her in Sunday's final. Among the missing are Australian Open regular Anastasia Rodionova and injured New Zealand emigre Sacha Jones, as well as Jelena Dokic, who is expected to be sidelined throughout January as she recovers from wrist surgery.