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Australian Open's record prize pot

Although the men’s and women’s singles champions can look forward to a cool A$3.7 million ($2.7 million) paycheck, or 9% more than last year, the biggest gains were reserved for the sport’s lower-ranked players.

Those competing in the qualifying event at the 2017 Australian Open in January will get a pay increase of 39%, while reaching the first three rounds of the main singles draw will be rewarded with a rise of as much as 30%.

“We are committed to further improving the pay and conditions on the international tennis tour to ensure every professional tennis player is properly compensated,” tournament director and chief executive Craig Tiley said in an emailed statement.

The Australian Open now has the second-highest prize purse in tennis behind the US Open, which in 2016 paid out $46.3 million.

Low pay

Although top players such as defending Australian Open champions Angelique Kerber and Novak Djokovic are being paid millions of dollars in prize money and endorsements, tennis is a notoriously hard sport for those battling for ranking points and prize money on the lower-tier circuits.

Less than half of almost 14,000 professional tennis players make no prize money at all while the annual average cost of playing on the men’s and women’s circuits is around $40,000, according to the International Tennis Federation.

Angelique Kerber at Melbourne Park in January.

With such high costs and low pay, it is thought lower-ranked players are more vulnerable to match-fixing such as throwing a match or losing a set.

Match-fixing allegations

The Australian Open, which starts on January 16 at Melbourne Park, came under scrutiny in January of this year after a joint investigation by Buzzfeed and the BBC published on the first day of the tournament alleged match-fixing was a widespread problem in tennis and had been ignored by officials.

Although the investigation did not show any actual evidence of match fixing and tennis authorities strongly rejected any suggestion that evidence of match fixing was suppressed or not thoroughly investigated by the Tennis Integrity Unit, the sport’s four governing bodies announced the creation of an independent three-man review panel 10 days later.

They said at the time the investigation would take at least one year.

“I don’t think our brand was damaged, but I certainly think there was some damage to the sport,” Steve Healy, president of Tennis Australia, told SAHIFANEWS by phone from Sydney.

“I’m confident that the panel will find that there is no entrenched corruption in the sport,” said Healy.

“But I am sure they’ll find certain things than can be done better and we will implement those and fund them to the full extent if necessary to protect the sport.”

Integrity measures

Earlier this week, Healy announced a host of measures aimed at strengthening the integrity of the season’s first grand slam event, including the creation of a National Integrity Unit headed up by former law enforcement officer and long-time sports management and policy expert Ann West.

The unit also hired two full-time experienced investigators from law enforcement backgrounds, an information and intelligence officer and a safety and risk manager.

Other measures include an enhanced education and awareness program for all players, coaches, clubs, volunteers, officials, staff and parents and increased security at all Tennis Australia events.

New agreements with licensed Australian bookmakers are aimed at making sure they report all suspicious betting alerts.

“Viable career option”

Making sure more of the sport’s wealth is distributed to those who need it the most forms an important part of the new integrity measures.

“It was especially important for us to increase the compensation for players in the early rounds and qualifying, and this year we have made some real gains,” Tiley said.

“We are constantly reviewing ways to improve the life of every player on tour, not just the top 100. This includes increasing prize money as well as removing as many costs as possible associated with playing our events.

“Our aim is to shift the break-even point for professional players, to ensure that tennis is a viable career option for the best male and female athletes in the world. We are also committed to equal prize money, equal exposure and equal opportunity for men and women,” he said.

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