Tennis Australia said yesterday it was confident that players would not boycott the Australian Open over a prize-money disagreement, but it was taking the threat seriously.
The Sunday Times in London reported players on the ATP Tour, which runs the men’s game, were considering a boycott of January’s tournament in a bid to gain a higher percentage of Grand Slam event revenues for themselves.
Australian Open director Craig Tiley said he did not view the reported threats to the opening Grand Slam of the season with alarm.
“We are working on a compensation plan for the 2013 event and are keen to ensure it addresses a lot of the issues players have been raising with us in our ongoing discussions,” he said in a statement.
“Our relationship with the playing group is very strong and I’m absolutely confident we’ll see all the players in Melbourne for Australian Open 2013,” he added.
At issue is the pay of lower-ranked players who often exit in the first round after making the long journey Down Under.
While this year they pocketed A$20,800 (US$21,605) for a first-round defeat at the Australian Open, some players struggle to make ends meet during the year, as they pay for much of their own expenses and travel.
Without a high profile, they are also unable to score lucrative sponsorship deals that could help sustain their careers.
“The problem is that the players that are ranked about 100 and lower are not making sufficient money to support themselves right throughout the year,” Tiley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It’s not necessarily just a Grand Slam problem, it’s an all-sport problem and I think the entire sport needs to sit down and help address the issue, because at the lower ranks of our sport the prize money hasn’t changed in 25 years and that’s just not good enough,” he said.
Tiley said it was unfair to target the Australian Open, which this year offered the biggest prize-money pot in Grand Slam tennis at A$26 million.
ATP Tour players have reportedly discussed the possibility of a boycott and a meeting, which included ATP players’ council president Roger Federer, was held in New York on Friday before the start of the US Open.
Federer spoke about the meeting without mentioning a potential boycott, making it clear he would not reveal any details of what was discussed.
“Obviously there’s always going to be rumors flying, but as long as I’m president of the players’ council it’s always going to stay behind closed doors what exactly has been talked about,” he said.
However, Andy Roddick, the 2003 US Open champion, has previously spoken about the issue — remarking on the wide gap between the percentage of player revenues in the NBA and Grand Slam tennis.
“The NBA players were upset because they had to come down from a 57 percent revenue share,” Roddick said.
“The research at the US Open [showed] we were down at 13 percent of revenue [that] went back to the players,” he said.
“It just seems skewed in comparison to some of the other sports,” he added.
Todd Woodbridge, a former president of the ATP player council who is now Tennis Australia’s head of professional tennis, said while the idea of a boycott had been “thrown around for a while,” one was unlikely to happen.
“I would be very shocked if that were to happen. I think we’re in good shape,” he said.