Tennis: Wimbledon first-round losers set to be financial winners

LONDON (REUTERS) - First-round singles losers at this year's Wimbledon tennis championships will receive 27,000 pounds (S$57,000) prize money as organisers continue to help the sport's lesser lights make ends meet.

Outlining how the grass-court Grand Slam tournament's increased 25 million pounds prize pot will be distributed, the All England Club announced a 14.9 per cent raise for first-round losers in the main draw of the men's and women's singles.

At the top end, this year's singles champions will bank 1.76 million pounds, a 10 per cent increase on the 1.6 million pounds Andy Murray and Marion Bartoli earned last year.

That compares favourably with the 1.65 million euros (S$2.9 million) for the singles champions at next month's French Open, while Stanislas Wawrinka and Li Na earned US$2.65 million (S$3.3 million) for their wins at the Australian Open in January.

All England Club chief executive Richard Lewis justified the increased level of prize money for early-round losers on Tuesday at the annual news conference ahead of the Championships.

"I slightly take issue with that," he told reporters when questioned whether the prize money on offer for first-round losers was appropriate.

"They have worked hard to get here for 12 months either through their world ranking or through qualifying. By being in a main draw of a Grand Slam means they are world-class players.

"The costs and expenses involved in being a top-100 player are huge and while they are not pleading poverty they are not making huge sums of money either for world-class athletes."

Since 2011, Wimbledon's annual prize money increases have been heavily weighted towards the losers in the earlier rounds - a move designed to placate lower-ranked players who struggle to balance the books compared to those in the top 10.

This year's increase means first-round prize money has risen by a massive 135 per cent in three years, compared to a 60 per cent increase for the champions.

"We've placed emphasis on the large group of players who need our help the most, those players who lose in qualifying and in the early rounds of the championships," Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook said.

"We also had an eye to being competitive internationally, and we do keep our watch on what is going on in other tennis events and in particular the other Grand Slams."

First-round losers at the US Open last year earned US$32,000, at this year's Australian Open A$30,000 (S$35,000), while at the French Open in 2013 they got 21,000 euros.

Apart from the prize money increases, progress on redevelopment work around the leafy south-west London site was also outlined, including the planned roof over Court No. 1.

Design work is still being done on a retractable roof for the second show court with the structure, which will use the same material as that on the translucent Centre Court roof. It is expected to be in place for the start of the 2019 tournament, pending planning consent.

Work would include installing an extra 900 seats for the court, taking the capacity to 12,400.

This year's tournament will take place on only 17 courts, down from 19, as work on new underground facilities, including a 24-hour media restaurant and enhanced facilities for ball kids working at the tournament, continues.

The tournament will be held from June 23 to July 6.

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