If Rafael Nadal can win the French Open in just under two weeks’ time, he will not only claim an unprecedented 10th title at Roland Garros, but join the women’s champion in receiving the highest payout yet in Paris. The year’s second Grand Slam, which began on Sunday, will hand over 1.8 million euros ($1.96 million) to the winners of the men’s and women’s championship, up 150,000 euros ($164,000) from a year ago. That increase is part of a more than 12 percent increase in the total prize-money fund for the tournament to 28 million euros ($30.5 million).
The financial rewards on offer at tennis’ four Grand Slams have greatly increased in recent years. The scale of the growth at the French Open can be seen in the fact that were Nadal to win the title this year he would pocket almost as much as he did for winning his first two titles in Paris -- in 2005 and 2006 -- combined.
“This notable increase in Roland Garros prize money is part of the four-year plan that was put in place for 2013 until 2016,” tournament director and French Tennis Federation general director Gilbert Ysern said at the time of the announcement last month, reported the AP.
The increase in prize money has been made for every round of the tournament. This year’s runners-up will take home 900,000 euros ($982,000), while the losing semifinalists will pocket 450,000 euros ($491,000), which both represent an increase of more than nine percent on last year. The biggest increases, however, have been reserved for the early rounds of the competition.
“Players eliminated in the first week will be the principal beneficiaries,” Ysern added, according to Reuters.
Indeed, the second-round losers will pocket nearly 20 percent more than in 2014, up to 50,000 euros ($55,000). Those changes come on the back up of a concerted campaign within the sport to better compensate those players lower down the rankings who live in a vastly different financial reality to the likes of Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova at the top of the sport. With significant coaching, traveling and living expenses for professionals on both the men’s and women’s tours, simply making a healthy living can be a challenge.
Still, despite its significant increases in recent years, the French Open still lags behind the rest of tennis’ Grand Slams. Australian Open winners Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams collected $2.4 million this year as part of a total prize fund of $31 million. Meanwhile, Wimbledon recently announced that they were bumping up their paychecks for the two champions in 2015 to $2.9 million, with the total purse increasing to $41.2 million. The U.S. Open, held in New York City, still leads the way, paying out $3 million to its two singles champions in 2014 and a total prize fund of $36.2 million.
Unquestionably part of the problem for the French Open in competing with the three other leading tournaments in tennis is its Roland Garros site. The venue in Paris is the smallest of the four Grand Slams and sees the tournament falling behind in terms of attendance figures each year. Only four years ago there were serious considerations made to moving the site for the event to Versailles or another suburb outside of Paris.
However, even after deciding to say in its current location in the heart of the city, the planned expansion project continues to be faced with complications and delays. With the U.S. Open set to have a roof over the huge Arthur Ashe Stadium in time for 2016, the French Open will soon also be the only Grand Slam not to be able to continue some play through rain delays, potentially damaging its appeal to television broadcasters.