Massive prize hike at US Open
New York - After a year of closed-door meetings with tennis players seeking a greater say in the sport and a larger slice of Grand Slam revenues, the US Open is ready to make big changes.
The New York-based tournament plans to increase its annual prize money to $50 million by 2017 - roughly double what it was last year - and permanently schedule the men's semi-finals on Friday and men's final on a Sunday as of 2015.
"Roger Federer said it perhaps best of all: It's time for us to work together, as opposed to working against each other," US Tennis Association Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith said in a telephone interview.
As part of an unprecedented five-year agreement with the men's and women's professional tours, the USTA also is making an additional $4.1 million increase to this year's prize pool, on top of a $4 million jump announced in December. That brings the 2013 total payout to $33.6 million from the $25.5 million in 2012.
The USTA planned to announce the changes on Wednesday, a day after they were formally presented to the ATP Player Council at a meeting in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Federer, the 17-time major champion, is president of the ATP Player Council. He is not playing in the tournament that begins this week at Key Biscayne, but participated in Tuesday's meeting via telephone. Federer joined other top players, including current No 1 Novak Djokovic, in lobbying the USTA and organisers of other major tournaments in an effort that began at the tournament in Indian Wells, California, about 12 months ago.
Aside from wanting more money, some male players complained the US Open had been the sport's only Grand Slam tournament with their semi-finals and final on consecutive days. The USTA liked its old "Super Saturday" setup - two men's semi-finals and the women's final all on that day's schedule at Flushing Meadows, followed by the men's final on Sunday - but tournament director David Brewer acknowledged it was time to scrap it.
"We realise the game has changed and how they play the game is different even than it was 10 years ago," Brewer said. "The format we've had for 30 years was putting players and the tournament in jeopardy at some point."
In December, the USTA said it would move the 2013 women's singles final to Sunday and the men's final to Monday, building in a day of rest ahead of each title match and moving from a 14-day tournament to 15 days.
Brewer said that schedule will remain in place in 2014, but the US Open will shift things in 2015: women's semi-finals on Thursday, men's semi-finals on Friday, women's final on Saturday, men's final on Sunday.
"It's where we all want to be," Brewer said. "They wanted a 14-day event. We wanted a 14-day event. So it's good news."
Asked to describe the nature of the negotiations with players, which began about a year ago, USTA chairperson of the Board and president David Haggerty said: "I wouldn't say necessarily 'pressure.' I would say 'spirited discussions.'"
The USTA does not plan to pay for the higher prize money with a similar leap in ticket prices.
"Frankly, we'll take somewhat of a hit," Smith said, "but it's the right thing to do for the Open and for the players, so we're doing it."
The distribution of the new prize money - how much will go to the singles champions, for example, or to losers in the early rounds or to doubles teams - hasn't been decided. An announcement is expected closer to the start of the US Open, which runs from August 26 to September 9.
The USTA did confirm its commitment to equal pay for men and women. But it is not ready to say exactly how prize money will go up between now and 2017, other than that it will increase each year.
"We have a good idea, but we are still working on that," Smith said. "We've shared our thinking (with the ATP), and I think we're all pretty much on the same page, but we're working out the details."
The USTA's prize money announcement comes before both the French Open (which starts May 26) and Wimbledon (which starts June 24) say how much they will offer this year.
The Australian Open, held each January and the first of the four Grand Slam events of the year, increased its prize money by $4.2 million in 2013, and said the total almost $31 million made it the richest major at the time. Much of the pay hike at the 2013 Australian Open went to players who lost in the first three rounds.
Haggerty said the sport's leading tournaments have not coordinated their efforts to placate players.
"This agreement ... really allows us to focus our energies ... on growing tennis and participation. This allows us to know generally what the future looks like," Haggerty said.
"Each of the Grand Slams make their own decisions. ... We have not had conversations with the other Grand Slams to tell them what we're doing," he added. "They will hear about it when it is announced."