Wimbledon announce plans for second retractable roof at the All England Club
Wimbledon has never let its fabled grass grow under its feet and the All England Club have announced measures designed to preserve its position at the pinnacle of the game.
The “Wimbledon Master Plan” features proposed structural changes over the next 15 to 20 years, including a retractable roof over No 1 Court and new locations for many outside courts, while prize money for this year's tournament will increase by a remarkable 40 per cent to a total of £22.6m.
You would never have guessed that much of the country is struggling to make ends meet given the expansionist mood in SW19. As usual the Club would not reveal the redevelopment costs, though it insisted they were "affordable" and would be funded by "internal resources". Given that the roof over Centre Court was reckoned to have cost more than £100m, the bill for the latest proposals looks likely to be at least double that figure.
Nevertheless, it will be the prize money that raises most eyebrows. In response to demands from players for better rewards - particularly for the lower-ranked competitors - all four Grand Slam tournaments have made significant rises. The Australian Open paid out $Aus30m (£20.2m) this year and the French and US Opens have announced prize funds of 22m euros (£18.8m) and $33.6m (£22m) respectively.
Although he later denied that Wimbledon was seeking to outdo the other Grand Slam events, Philip Brook, the Wimbledon chairman, stated proudly: "This is the largest single increase ever in tennis history and the total prize money of £22.6m is also the largest ever in tennis." He added: "We've made these increases because we want to make them, not because we had to make them."
When asked whether the increases were justifiable in the current economic climate, Brook said: "We need to remain competitive. The prize money landscape has changed significantly over the last year. We needed at the very least to respond to that. I think what we're announcing today is to do a little bit more than that, because we think it's important that we get a message out to the players, who are so important to Wimbledon, about how we feel about them."
The biggest increases, of 62 to 64 per cent, will go to singles players who lose in the first three rounds. First-round losers will each receive £23,500, which for some - especially those Britons awarded wild cards - could amount to around half their total earnings for the year.
Brook insisted that these were "players who are finding their way and not making a lot of money", while Richard Lewis, Wimbledon's chief executive, stressed the importance of making tennis attractive to the next generation. "That means that players ranked from 50 to 100 and 100 to 200 need to be able to look at the sport and know that they can make a good living," he said.
Not that the top players will be going hungry. Prize money for those in the last 16 goes up by 40 per cent, while the singles champions receive a 39 per cent increase of £450,000 to £1.6m.
The "Master Plan", meanwhile, will be implemented after a consultation process this summer. The retractable roof over No 1 Court is not expected to be completed before 2019. The court will be used throughout that period, but there is likely to be one year - as there was with the new Centre Court cover - when the stadium is open to the elements.
Three new Championship courts will be built between No 1 Court and the practice courts to the north of the site. They will replace the current Court 19, which will become a public plaza to ease spectator congestion, and Courts 7 and 11, which are currently among a group of eight courts with little space between them to the south of Centre Court. Court 12 will be moved to a new position south of Court 2.