Elite group whip up Slam storm
TENNIS:The world’s top players are taking a stand against the majors over prize money, with tournament boycotts a possibility, writes CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
THERE WERE rain delays and lost sessions at the US Open, pushed again to a Monday men’s final. There was a tornado warning and a chair blown onto the court in the midst of the men’s semi-final between Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray, the eventual champion.
But this Open might end up looking like the calm before the storm. The top men, led by Roger Federer, remain intent on applying pressure on the Grand Slam tournaments over prize money next year, beginning with the Australian Open in January. “I think as a group, they’ve been led by Roger, who is very intelligent and measured in this,” said Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director. “Any time you can have a player council represented by arguably one of the great players of all time, you’re going to have some strength.”
Although few of the major players or officials are prepared to speak publicly about the particulars for fear of compromising the negotiations, it is clear that tension is rising fast, player expectations are high and Grand Slam administrators are increasingly anxious.
The ATP World Tour players are seeking much more than another routine pay raise. They want to capitalize on the narrow window provided by their golden age and current solidarity to correct what they perceive as a long-running inequity. Late last year the ATP Player Council, with Federer as its president, began its push for more prize money at Grand Slam tournaments, particularly for early-round losers, in an attempt to address an earning gap in a top-heavy sport.
The French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open responded with larger-than-usual increases, weighted toward early-round losers. The US Open, for example, included a raise of at least 18 per cent for the first three rounds of the singles draw.
But the players made it clear that their main goal was major change in 2013. This is a high-stakes game of numbers and identity. The players want to emphasize the Grand Slam tournaments’ similarities with ATP events, which are believed to pay between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of revenue in prize money. The Slams continue to emphasize the differences, which include grass-roots responsibilities, non-profit status and even the commitment to pay for and promote smaller professional events.
“I really don’t think it is apples to apples,” Tiley said. But some tour events, including the Masters Series tournaments in Rome and Canada, are also run by national federations, and some players question why their efforts should help contribute to the financing of player development programmes in the four Grand Slam nations instead of going to more global efforts.