Keys of the United States reacts after beating Andrey Rublev of Russia on his way to winning the match to advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
By TERESA EDWARDS
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — The U.S. Open, seeking to inject some excitement into a lackluster men’s championship match, is increasing its purse to a record $30 million in its final week.
Not to be outdone by the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open, men’s runner-up prize money will rise by as much as 30 percent over the next three years to $2.3 million. And the women’s runner-up prize money will increase 5 percent to $1.56 million.
Those increases come after a year in which the average women’s tournament winner ($511,000) was well behind the average men’s tournament winner ($916,000).
The Associated Press first reported last fall that organizers hoped to revamp prize money in hopes of pushing more players into the field. As part of those discussions, the women’s winners were the first to earn a guaranteed purse ($2.8 million) each year through 2019.
The biggest category of prize money will jump by as much as $500,000, from $5.17 million in 2017 to $5.7 million in 2018. Even the second-place finisher at last year’s Open, Marin Cilic, didn’t earn an absolute minimum guarantee ($250,000).
All of that goes into the 2021-22 tournament year, which is the three-year cycle the ATP is using to increase the overall purse. That puts the United States Open, Grand Slam’s No. 1 draw, in line with the others when it comes to the overall payout percentage of its total purse.
Last year, only one of the top-eight players broke the $6 million mark, Roger Federer. Top players make as much as $29 million each year in prize money, a figure that is growing sharply with the use of bigger prize money distributions.
“I certainly don’t think it’s bad,” said Sam Querrey, the last American man left in the field, before Sunday’s final. “To make a $2 million or $3 million, that’s going to help out a lot in college. It’s going to help out a lot with a trip or something like that. That’s a good thing.”
But even the hike in the top prize — in large part the result of more international stars playing in the U.S. Open — could not overcome an overall decline in the purse for this year’s women’s field and the sixth consecutive year of year-to-year decline in overall top prize money for the men.
A men’s total purse of $26.4 million was the lowest since 2010, according to the USTA.
And even the increase in prize money for the men’s runner-up is a downshift from the days of John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Agassi. McEnroe was rewarded for winning the 1981 U.S. Open by getting more than $1 million, and Sampras was first-doubled at $750,000 in 1993.
The all-time men’s champ in New York, Ivan Lendl, earned a mere $294,000 when he beat Boris Becker in 1990. Roger Federer topped that by earning more than $3 million in 2004.
Among the women, Margaret Court’s 1973 win was worth more than $2 million. And the top prize has fallen below the $2 million mark only once since 1997, when Venus Williams won.
Despite those worrisome statistics, Billie Jean King — who speaks from experience when it comes to tournament prizes — insists the system is working.
“If it’s going to be parity, it better be,” she said in her weekly conference call with reporters. “I think it’s a great thing we’re doing here. It gives everyone a little bit of hope, a little bit of incentive to play the sport, play it well and have the rest of the tennis world look at it and say, ‘Hey, maybe they did the right thing.’ “
The Associated Press contributed to this report.