Novak Djokovic
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning during his Men's singles first round match against Spain's Fernando Verdasco at the Australian Open, Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Jan 17. Reuters/Edgar Su

The first Grand Slam of the 2017 tennis season is just two days old, but already 128 men and women have been sent packing. Yet, for many, the disappointment this time around will be assuaged to at least some degree by a massive increase in prize money at the Australian Open that has primarily targeted those bounced from the early rounds.

While the total prize money has risen 14 percent to a record high of 50 million Australian dollars ($37.7 million), for first-round losers it has gone up 30 percent to 50,000 Australian dollars ($37,730). The rewards for qualifying and second-round losers have also risen substantially.

The move is in part an effort to tackle corruption in the game. A BBC/Buzzfeed investigation released ahead of last year’s Australian Open claimed that a number of players were involved in match-fixing, with tennis’ authorities said to be doing little to address the problem.

Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tilley said when unveiling the new prize money structure last month that it was important to ensure all professional players could make a good living from the game.

“We are committed to further improving the pay and conditions on the international tennis tour to ensure every professional tennis player is properly compensated,” he said.

"It was especially important for us to increase the compensation for players in the early rounds and qualifying, and this year we have made some real gains. We are constantly reviewing ways to improve the life of every player on tour, not just the top 100.

“Our aim is to shift the break-even point for professional players, to ensure that tennis is a viable career option for the best male and female athletes in the world.

The changes mean that only the U.S. Open now better compensates first-round losers. However, that could change with both the French Open and Wimbledon likely to increase their prize money funds for this year.

At the top end, the Australian Open is also now second only to the U.S. Open in the rewards for the men’s and women’s singles champions. In Melbourne, the prize has gone up to 3.7 million Australian dollars ($2.8 million), compared to $3.5 million at the 2016 U.S. Open.

For five of the last six years, Novak Djokovic has been the man collecting the top prize Down Under. Another win in just under two weeks’ time will mean he is not only the most successful man at the Australian Open in the Open Era, but he will go ahead of Roy Emerson with the most wins of all time. This time around, though, he has been pushed down to second seed, with Andy Murray having taken his place as world No. 1 late last year.

It will be far from solely the increased prize money that has Murray desperate to get his hands on the trophy this time around. The Scot has been on the losing side to Djokovic in four finals, while he also lost the 2010 final to Roger Federer.

Federer, himself a four-time winner in Melbourne, faces a tough task to get his hands on the winner’s check this time around. The 35-year-old is seeded just 17th after injury forced him to miss the second half of last season. Federer’s long-time rival Rafael Nadal is also seeded unusually low due to injuries last year. All four, though, made it safely through the opening round.

On the women’s side, Serena Williams, like Djokovic, will be going for a seventh title. However, the American faces a challenge from recently crowned world No. 1 Angelique Kerber who beat Williams in last year’s final.