Is $50 million the Australian Open’s next magic number for 2017?

Number crunching: Prizemoney at the 2017 Australian Open is set to increase and ticket presales for the tournament are “on par” with last year, when a record crowd of 720,363 attended over the fortnight. Photo: Teagan Glenane Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley wants to lead the way in prizemoney offered to players. Photo: Eddie Jim
Nanjing Night Net

Winners are grinners at the Australian Open as 2016 runner-up Serena Williams shares a moment with winner Angelique Kerber. Photo: Scott Barbour

Australian Open prizemoney is pushing towards the $50 million barrier, with another substantial increase imminent and only the finer details of the record sum’s distribution still being negotiated by Tennis Australia and player governing bodies the ATP and the WTA.

Unlike the stand-off between the AFL and its players’ association over the terms of the parties’ new collective bargaining agreement, the tennis grand slams and their star attractions have had less difficulty coming to satisfactory terms in recent years.

The threat of strike action in 2012 paved the way for a series of significant prize pool increases at the four majors, starting at Melbourne Park, and this is expected to be another. Tournament director Craig Tiley confirmed that the push to better compensate the more lowly-ranked players in relative terms was also likely to continue at the January 16-29 event.

“We’ve been working with both the WTA and the ATP on the distribution, and once that’s finalised in the next week or so we’ll be able to announce [the prizemoney details],” said Tiley of a process that has again been left as late as possible in order to accommodate currency fluctuations. “You can expect an increase; to what extent we’ll be able to tell you then.”

Tiley reiterated the Open’s commitment to what he called “leading the way” in prizemoney agenda-setting. In 2012, for example, first-round losers in the main draw received $20,000, and the singles champion $2.3 million. This year, participation guaranteed at least $38,500, while the title winner’s purse had risen by almost 48 per cent to $3.4 million.

“We’ve been always the first to respond on player compensation and I personally, as well as our team, believe that paying the players well is really important not only for the event’s future, but also for the sport, and generally it’s lagged behind in the players ranked between 100 and 200,” Tiley said.

“We’ve stepped up by offering more prizemoney in … the qualifying, and the first few rounds. So that’s generally the direction we’ve gone as an event and we’ll continue to go [that way] because we believe there needs to be a larger group of players professionally that make more money.”

In 2013, the year after the possibility of industrial action was flagged, total Australian Open prizemoney soared by 15 per cent to $30 million, and the past three tournaments have been worth $33 million, $40 million and $44 million, respectively. This season, the US Open was again the most lucrative major, with total prizemoney of $62.5 million ($US46.3 million) on current exchange rates, ahead of Wimbledon $55.41 million and the French Open $48.6 million.

Tiley said ticket presales were “on par” with last year, when a record crowd of 720,363 attended over the fortnight. The long-range weather forecast is also encouraging, with less drizzle than in 2016, the majority of tournament days expecting maximum temperatures of 21-25 degrees, only three to four days in the 30s and perhaps one in the high 30s. A new spectator entry point is also now on the city side of the venue, via the Tanderrum Bridge.

As for dual Paralympics tennis gold medallist Dylan Alcott’s joke that he would have Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray moved to court six while he played on Rod Laver Arena, Tiley said: “How great was it Dylan Alcott winning the Newcombe Medal? The first wheelchair athlete to win it across all athletes and the speech he gave on Monday night was very emotional and was brilliant. Right now anything Dylan Alcott wants he pretty much can get.”

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