Admired across the world for their elite playing skills and their enviable combined wealth, the tennis world’s Big Four are now being regarded even more highly for their selfless integrity. In a move rarely seen in the competitive tennis world, the men’s top 4-ranked players – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray – used their influence and standing to secure a pay rise for their lower-ranked tennis colleagues in this summer’s Wimbledon Championships.
The Big Four requested a meeting last month with the chairman of the All England Tennis Club, Phillip Brook, during which they showed an exceptional level of leadership to negotiate an increase in prize money for the tournament this year. The result of the meeting was that total prize money will increase to £16.1 million, a 10% increase on total prize money from 2011, with first-round losers set to benefit most thanks to a pay improvement of 26%. Nadal and Murray have made their opinions about the uneven distribution of winnings at the major tournaments clear in the past, particularly at last year’s US Open where first-round losers earned a meagre $19,000 compared to the $1.8 million earned by the singles champions.
Although the winners of the singles championships will only receive a 4.5% increase – despite it increasing their winnings to a substantial £1.15 million each – the changes to this years’ pay packets are part of a concentrated effort to address the vast income gaps between lower-ranked tennis players and lower-ranked players of other sports. Despite critics suggesting that increasing first-round prize money would reward failure, the move benefits those players who struggle to meet the costs and expenses of playing professional tennis. As Mr Brook recently explained – “we appreciate the need to help players meet the rising costs associated with professional tennis, so the majority of the record £1.5 million increase will be distributed to those who are knocked out in the early rounds of the championships”.
Wimbledon isn’t the only grand-slam tournament to recognise the struggle that the lower-ranked players go through to compete regularly in tournaments, and the pay rise echoes a similar change made by the French Open in April. As well as an increase in overall prize money, first-round losers in the French grand slam received a 20% rise taking their winnings to $23, 670. The winners of the singles championships at the Roland Garros tournament also earned an extra 4.17% on their prize money this year, and the pressure is on the two other major grand-slams – the US Open and the Australian Open – to make a similar move.