Prize money for next year’s Australian Open will rise 10 per cent to $44 million, while special celebrations are planned to mark Lleyton Hewitt’s final tournament.
Tournament director Craig Tiley also announced a “friendship” agreement with the Shanghai Masters to open up the major to the Chinese market, with a new WeChat platform that will have a potential audience of more than 600 million.
Australia’s world number 76, Thanasi Kokkinakis, welcomed the boost in prize money.
“Tennis is a tough sport because everyone in the top 100 makes a good living but if you compare it to other sports, if you’re 200 in the world in other sports you can make a killing but in tennis it’s tough to get by,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“Every time there’s an increase in prize money it’s music to our ears.”
Former world number one Hewitt, 34, has been granted a wildcard entry into the main men’s draw for the January event, which will be his record 20th consecutive campaign at Melbourne Park.
Tiley said organisers still had to work out the details of how the tournament would honour the two-time major winner as he winds down his playing career.
“We want to celebrate the great career Lleyton’s had, but we need to sit down and talk with him because he will also want to focus on doing the best he can at the Open,” Tiley said.
Currently ranked 296 in the world, Hewitt’s best result at his home grand slam is runner-up to Russian Marat Safin in 2005, while he has not made it past the second round in the past three years.
At 19, Kokkinakis is not old enough to remember an Australian Open without his Davis Cup team-mate competing and said it will be sad to see him go.
“He’s done so much for the sport here so it’s going to be disappointing,” Kokkinakis said.
“I know he’s always going to be involved in tennis so while it’s disappointing for the fans I think a few players can take a breath they don’t have to face him anymore.”