30. The socialism of Grand Slam prize money

While players on the ATP tour and the Challenger tour have had contrasting fortunes, literally, with prize money over the last 35 years (see last post), the Grand Slams have both increased prize money and distributed it more or less equally. This shows that prize money allocation is as much about the will of tournament organisers as it is about economics. While this is a welcome turn of events, the disparity between Grand Slam pay and Challenger tour pay has a broader set of implications that will be the subject of the next post.

There’s been a great reaction to the last post here both on twitter and around the web. That post was about the diverging trends in ATP Challenger and ATP main tour prize money: it pays to be on the main tour and since 1978 adjusting for inflation prize money for main tour players increased 219% while it decreased for Challenger tour players by 29%.

What that post didn’t do was to analyse Grand Slam prize money. This post does.

Grand bargain at the Grand Slams

The picture at Grand Slams, and certainly more recently, is more refreshing for those struggling to make a living from the game. Since 1990, adjusting for inflation and averaged across all four Grand Slams, prize money for first round losers (R128) has increased by 300%; prize money for Grand Slam winners has increased 350%. Compared to other parts of the men’s tour (see above) where the stars of the game have seen far greater prize money gains – and for the most part deservedly so – this is remarkable parity. It is also a testament to the popularity of the sport.

However, the increase in prize money has not been uniform across the rounds nor without some controversy. Between 2004 and 2010, prize money for the early rounds (R128, R64, R32 or the first three rounds) increased just 6%; prize money for the winner and finalist increased by 78%.

This inequality led Sergi Stakhovsky, an outspoken supporter for the journeyman tennis professional, to lobby Wimbledon for an increase in prize money. His success in helping to secure greater parity for early round losers, see below, demonstrates that prize money allocation is as much about the will of tournament organisers as it is about the star quality of leading players.

Percentage increase in Grand Slam Prize Money by grouped round 1990-2014, adjusted for inflation

30 GS prize index


Since 2010, however, steps have been taken to redress this imbalance. At Wimbledon, prize money doubled in 2 years for first round losers: in 2012 a first round loser earned a shade under USD 23,000 (adjusting for inflation); this year, that figure was almost double at USD 45,000. When prize money was finally increased in 2013 for first round losers to GBP 23,500 (USD 35,000), Stakhovsky said: “Over the last 10 years the Grand Slam prize distribution went only one way so now it’s settled down a bit. It will have a significant impact on the lives of those players.”

A similar story can be told at the French Open (Roland Garros), and to a lesser extent at the US Open. Indeed, Roland Garros confirms to national stereotype and can be considered tennis’s most “socialist” Grand Slam: at 18%, the winner receives the lowest percentage of the men’s singles total prize money. And despite its conservative traditions, prize money at Wimbledon has recently become progressive: for while in 2010, champion Nadal left with just over 20% of the men’s singles prize money, Djokovic this year took a little more than 18%.

It is at the Australian Open and the US Open where the tour-level pattern of significant rewards for the successful has most manifested itself: winners of these two Grand Slams in 2014 walk away with 22% and 20% of the pot respectively.

Indeed at all four of the Grand Slams in 1990, the winner’s cheque was between 65x and 67x the size of prize money given to a first round loser. Admirably, Wimbledon and Roland Garros have kept to those ratios through the years. At Melbourne Park, however, the winner now receives 88x the prize money of a first round loser; and at Flushing Meadows that figure is 84x.

It is important also not to forget that just because the winner and the R128 loser receive the same percentage increase in prize money that that translates into the same dollar increase in prize money. This chart will disabuse you of that notion.

Dollar Increase in Grand Slam Prize Money by grouped round 1990-2014, adjusted for inflation(2014 $)

30 GS prize dollar


In contrast to the staple events on the ATP main tour and the Challenger tour, as well as the World Tour Finals, Grand Slam pay generally offers a welcome picture of greater equality. However, the wide disparity between Challenger pay and Grand Slam pay has implications for the second tier of men’s professional tennis that will be discussed in the next post.

One thought on “30. The socialism of Grand Slam prize money

  1. Pingback: 59. The Estoril Diaries: Qualifying | Cleaning the lines

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