When Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer go head-to-head in the semifinals of the Australian Open, the prize of getting one step closer to another Grand Slam title will be foremost in their minds. But both could also be forgiven for the odd, brief contemplation of another landmark on the horizon. Whoever comes out on top in their eagerly awaited matchup in Melbourne on Thursday will take a big step closer to becoming the first player in tennis history to top $100 million in on-court earnings.
Federer currently holds the advantage, having to date pocketed $97.3 million from what has been a record-setting career. But Djokovic is on $94.4 million and closing fast. Last year the world No. 1’s dominance, when he won three of the four Grand Slam titles, saw him set a new record by earning $21.6 million from a single season. Federer, while enjoying a very solid year and finishing it ranked No. 3 in the world, took home what in comparison was a relatively meager $8.7 million.
And if Djokovic can get the better of Federer for a third Grand Slam in succession, he will earn a further 3.4 million Australian dollars ($2.4 million) to join Federer within touching distance of three digits. Were Djokovic to get there first, it would be testament not only to his achievements on the tennis court, but the ever-increasing financial awards offered up by tennis Grand Slams.
While Federer leads Djokovic in Grand Slam titles won, 17 to 10, and in total titles won in their careers, 88 to 60, Djokovic’s dominance has come at a more rewarding financial time. A prime example is the fact that when Federer won the first of his four Australian Open titles in 2004, his reward, at 1.2 million Australian dollars, was 64 percent less than the winner will take home after the final on Sunday.
The Australian Open has been particularly eager to increase its purse. That has been in part down to the weak Australian dollar as well as the desire to maintain the prestige of the event. It is not all that long ago that the Australian Open was very much seen as the misfit among the Grand Slam events, so much so that well into the 1980s many of the top players chose not to attend.
But the situation is now every different. The tournament became the second Grand Slam to offer equal prize money for the men’s and women’s singles champion in 2001, and at $2.4 million now ranks third behind the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, but ahead of the French Open. There is strong talk that the purse of 44 million Australian dollars ($30.1 million) will get a further significant boost for 2017.
“We are always looking to make the Australian Open as successful as possible financially," tournament director Craig Tilley said ahead of this year’s Australian Open, according to the Herald Sun. “That’s because we want it to self-fund future growth and innovation, strive to appropriately compensate the best athletes in the world and also fund the growth of our great sport in Australia.
“Prize money is really important because we want to attract the best young athletes to tennis. So to have a healthy professional global competition, we need compensation that goes well beyond just the top players.”
Whoever loses between Djokovic and Federer on Thursday will still have the comfort of walking away with 750,000 Australian dollars ($526,000), while the runner-up in the final will get 1.7 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million).