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TENNIS

U.S. Open Will Increase Prize Money

June 19, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Prize money at the U.S. Open will be increased to more than $17 million and, for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament, singles winners will earn $1 million.

Last year's singles champions, Pete Sampras and Serena Williams, earned $900,000 each. The million-dollar threshold has been surpassed before, at the now-defunct Grand Slam Cup, but the highest amount at any of the four major championships had come at the 2002 Open.

"It adds to the overall mystique and drama for fans watching someone who has the ability to receive a $1-million paycheck," said Arlen Kantarian, the United States Tennis Assn.'s chief executive of professional tennis.

The announcement, which will be made today by the USTA, arrives against the backdrop of a recent request by the men's tour for $50 million in additional funds from the Grand Slams.

The proposal by ATP Chief Executive Mark Miles, made during the French Open, was quickly rejected, but Miles and Kantarian have been negotiating since then.

The timing of the prize money increase is fortuitous, considering there had been rumblings of a player boycott at the Open, which starts Aug. 25 in New York.

Though the possibility of a boycott is considered remote, the Open was put on the spot because it is the next major tournament after another series of meetings scheduled during Wimbledon.

Miles will bring a variety of information to his constituency at a previously scheduled players' meeting Saturday at Wimbledon, two days before the start of the tournament. The latest dollar figures coming from the Open represent a healthy increase in a troubled economic time for the sport.

The Open's prize money was increased by 6.2%. The singles purse -- which is more than $10 million -- went up 8%, and the doubles take was pushed to a record $400,000. In 2002, the men's and women's doubles champions received $350,000.

"None of the other Grand Slams have raised doubles prize money except us," Alan Schwartz, the USTA's president and chairman of the board, said in an interview Wednesday. "And the ATP has lessened it.... We believe in doubles. Let's back it up and put our money where our mouth is. The health of doubles is totally consistent with our mission."

To that end, the Open has made one adjustment, pushing back the doubles entry deadline to after the first round of singles in hopes of attracting more big names -- for example, a top player who lost early in singles. Schwartz noted that the Australian Open experimented with that adjustment in 2003. He also said that moving the doubles finals to a higher-profile spot on the schedule is not out of the question for this year's Open.

The total prize money at the 2003 U.S. Open will be $17,074,000, compared to $16,174,200 last year. It continues to be the largest purse of any annual event in sports. Kantarian said that a first-round loser at the Open in singles, doubles and mixed doubles could still leave New York with a $20,000 paycheck.

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