MELBOURNE, Australia — Glorious sunshine, bumper crowds, and an unmistakably Australian laid-back atmosphere has seen the Aussie Open unofficially dubbed the “Happy Slam”. But perhaps the greatest reason behind the smiles on players’ faces at Melbourne Park is thanks to the eye-watering prize money on offer.
The tournament’s total prize pool has swelled to AU$76,500,000 (US$53 million) in 2023, making it the second-highest paying tennis event on the planet, behind only the US Open. This year, singles champions will take home cheques for AU$2,975,000 (US$2.06 million), while even a first-round loss will net early exits a staggering AU$106,250 (US$74,000).
Over the course of the Australian summer of tennis, which includes the lucrative new United Cup, as well as ATP and WTA tournaments in Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra, a record prize pool of AU$100 million is on offer.
“It is critical to the continued success of Australian tennis that we provide strong and relevant playing opportunities and ensure that the best players in the world are compensated appropriately,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said on the eve of this year’s event.
It’s a far cry from where the Australian Open found itself in the 1970s and early 80s.
Back then, the tournament was staged in Kooyong — an affluent suburb in Melbourne’s inner east. While picturesque, the private club’s facilities and infrastructure were lacking and the grounds could barely accommodate 5,000 spectators per day. When you consider the lengthy travel for many US and European-based players and the awkward December timing, prize money had to be substantial in order to make the trek Down Under worthwhile. Unfortunately, it was nothing of the sort.
Margaret Court’s 1970 Australian Open triumph saw her earn a paltry AU$700 (worth roughly AU$9,700 in 2023). What did those first round losers cash? Nothing. Women had to reach the third round in order to be paid, albeit AU$30 (AU$415 or so today). Men earned that same modest prize with a second round appearance.
It was hardly worth the trek for overseas-based players, and with many of the world’s biggest names opting to skip the event, the Australian Open consistently featured significantly weaker fields, which fed the narrative of it being the “odd one out” amongst the majors.