AP Tennis Writer
The U.S. Open tennis tournament will increase its annual prize money to $50 million by 2017 -- nearly double what it was last year -- and switch back to a Sunday men's final in 2015, The Associated Press has learned.
As part of an unprecedented five-year agreement with the men's and women's professional tours, New York's Grand Slam also is making an additional $4.1 million increase to this year's prize pool, on top of an already-record $4 million jump announced in December. That brings the 2013 total payout to $33.6 million from the $25.5 million in 2012.
The moves, aimed at improving relations with players seeking a greater say in the sport and a larger slice of Grand Slam revenues, were formally presented to the ATP Player Council at a meeting Tuesday in Key Biscayne, Fla. Details were described to the AP by U.S. Tennis Association officials in telephone interviews after their session with representatives from the men's tour.
The USTA planned to announce the changes Wednesday.
"Roger Federer said it perhaps best of all: It's time for us to work together, as opposed to working against each other," USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith said.
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 other Grand Slam tournaments to raise prize money.
Asked to describe the nature of the negotiations with players, which began about a year ago, USTA Chairman of the Board and President David Haggerty said: "I wouldn't say necessarily 'pressure.' I would say 'spirited discussions.'"
The USTA says it 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 U.S. Open, which runs from Aug. 26 to Sept. 9.
The USTA did confirm its commitment to equal paychecks 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."
In December, the USTA said it would move the women's singles final to Sunday and the men's final to Monday in 2013, building in a day of rest ahead of each title match and moving from a 14-day tournament to 15 days. Tournament director David Brewer told the AP that schedule will remain in place in 2014, but the U.S. Open permanently will shift things in 2015: women's semifinals Thursday, men's semifinals Friday, women's final Saturday, men's final 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."
Some top male players complained the U.S. Open had been the sport's only Grand Slam tournament with their semifinals and final on consecutive days. The USTA liked its old "Super Saturday" setup -- two men's semifinals and the women's final all on that day's schedule at Flushing Meadows, followed by a men's final Sunday -- but Brewer acknowledged it was time to scrap it for good.
"We realize 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."
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.
And 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."
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