Australian Open boycott unlikely, change inevitable: players
NEW YORK - Leading tennis players say they are unlikely to boycott the Australian Open over a row about prize money, but feel change is inevitable.
The male players are united in their belief that the four grand slam events - Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, French Open and Australian Open - should give them a greater percentage of overall tournament revenue.
Prize money at the grand slams varies between 11 and 16 percent and the ATP players' council, with Roger Federer as its president, met on the eve of the U.S. Open to discuss the issues.
But though rumours emerged of a possible boycott, Olympic champion Andy Murray said he thought that would not be the right way to go.
"The majority of players want to see a change in the grand slams but who knows what's going to happen," Murray told reporters. "I hope it doesn't come down to that. I think that's bad for everybody, really."
Former world number one Andy Roddick, like Murray one of the leading campaigners for increased revenue, said all the players were on the same page but that change is likely to take time.
"I'm on board with whatever the contemporaries come up with (but) at this point it's the same old song," the American said.
"The ATP, the ITF, powers that be, are betting against us being able to unify, they have been getting away with that gamble for 25 years and we haven't proved them wrong yet. That's where we stand.
"(Irish rock group) U2 doesn't ask permission to go on tour. We ask permission do a lot of things."
South African Kevin Anderson was elected to the players' council in June and said a boycott of the Australian Open would "never be an ideal situation".
Anderson told Reuters: "Most players do want to see a higher increase in the revenue share. Hopefully the grand slams will see that and we'll be able to come to an agreement that all the players feel comfortable with.
"The grand slams do pay well but the product is so successful, that's why the players feel it would be possible to get a little more. But everybody is on the same page."
The French Open started the ball rolling in May when it raised its prize money for first-round losers by a far bigger margin than it increased its winners' cheques.
Wimbledon and the U.S. Open followed suit and the Australian Open, which is believed to pay the highest percentage of revenue in terms of its prize money, is due to release its numbers for 2013 in October.
Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director, said this week he was confident the players would play in Melbourne in January.
The South African has called for the introduction of a tennis commissioner to oversee the sport and wants the Association of Tennis Professions (ATP), the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and four grand slams to act together.
But Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, one of the most outspoken players and another new member of the players' council, believes anything is possible.
"He (Tiley) may be very, very, disappointed," Stakhovsky said. "I can't tell you (if he will be). I think he can be.
"Why do you keep calling it a boycott? A hundred guys can be, literally, ill. They can be injured, all of them. Why not?"
The ATP Tour pays more of its revenue in prize money than the grand slams but Anderson said the players were negotiating for more.
"The ATP made a few big changes with the structure of the 250s, 500s and the Masters, which I think was a great system," the South African said.
"But I think they've realised that there are a few shortfalls within that system. It doesn't allow some to push up the prize money.
"The contracts have been signed so when those are up we'll be looking at that and hopefully coming up with a new system."
Anderson said there are likely to be more changes to the schedule, including moving the Paris Masters 1000 from October to February and switching the South American clay-court swing to November and December, but making them non-mandatory.
"After Australia, we're giving Europe as much attention as possible," he said. "They're the strongest market right now, tennis-wise. Then South America gets the opportunity to compete without other tournaments at the end of the year.
"If you want to play, you can. Tennis players always see it as an opportunity and if you have a good run there it can set your year off nicely.
"Some players say they definitely wouldn't play; others have entertained the thought. It's impossible to tell yet." (Reporting by Simon Cambers in New York; Editing by Steve Ginsburg)