Aussie Open prize money increases to $31 million

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Australian Open organizers have increased prize money to a record $31.1 million for 2013 in response to player concerns about compensation at Grand Slam tournaments.

Tournament director Craig Tiley said the $4.15 million increase announced Tuesday was the largest from one year to the next in the tournament's history and should attract the strongest available draw of players. Tiley also said he'd been in contact with Rafael Nadal, who had indicated he was still targeting the Australian Open for his return to Grand Slam tennis from a left knee injury was has sidelined him since Wimbledon.

"Expect Rafa to be one of many great stories in January, including a formidable title defense from our brilliant reigning men's champion, Novak Djokovic, and some major challenges from the great Roger Federer, U.S. Open 2012 champion Andy Murray ..." Tiley said in a statement.

Nadal, an 11-time Grand Slam winner, partially tore the patella tendon in his left knee and hasn't played since losing in the second round of Wimbledon in June. Last month he said there was no timetable for his return, but that he was hopeful of playing in Australia.

Before returning to competitive tennis in Australia, Nadal plans to play in an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi in late December, according to a statement released by organizers of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. The tournament from Dec. 27-29 has a field that includes Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and David Ferrer.

The move to increase prize money for the first tennis major of the year followed reports that some players were considering bypassing the tournament if the purse was not increased, particularly for losers in the early rounds.

"We're proud of the fact we've gone to record prize money," Tiley said. "We are supporting the lower-ranked players in their quest for compensation."

Tiley said players were pleasantly surprised by the increase.

"They were appreciative that the Australian Open has again stepped up, given them the number and gone significantly higher than probably they were expecting," he said.

Tennis Australia chief executive Steve Wood said the prize money boost would make the January tournament the richest in tennis history.

"We have led the world in prize money for these incredible athletes," he said, "and we want to ensure that the Australian Open continues to make a major contribution to the financial well-being of professional tennis players."

The move to increase the tournament's purse followed complaints the players first aired last year. The ATP Players Council, involving leading players including Roger Federer, raised concerns about funding levels and threatened action if those concerns weren't addressed.

The Players Council later played down a reported threat to boycott of the 2012 Australian Open. But Tuesday's prize money announcement was seen as pivotal in addressing player disquiet.