MELBOURNE: File photo shows Australian Open tennis tournament director Craig Tiley (L) greets Novak Djokovic of Serbia as he holds the men’s singles winnerís trophy at a media call in Melbourne.

MELBOURNE: The prize pool for the 2020 Australian Open has been boosted by 14% to A$71 million ($49.1 million), organisers said on Tuesday, with the biggest gains for players exiting in the early rounds. Players losing in the first round of qualifying at the year’s first Grand Slam will take home A$20,000, up by a third from last year, while singles players who exit in the first round of the main draw will earn A$90,000, a jump of 20%.

Before the start of the 2018 Australian Open, Serb champion Novak Djokovic had to distance himself from media reports that he had pushed for a revolt over the way revenues from the four Grand Slams were distributed to help reward a larger group of players.

“We have long been committed to improving the pay and conditions for a deeper pool of international tennis players,” tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement, noting that overall prize money has more than tripled since 2007. “This year … we pushed to reward players competing early in the tournament in both singles and doubles.” The 2020 women’s and men’s singles champions will receive smaller increases in prize money, with both winners taking home A$4.12 million, up $20,000.

Players can usually secure a main draw appearance in the tournament, which starts on Jan. 20, by having a ranking in the top 100. Naomi Osaka of Japan is the reigning women’s singles champion at the Australian Open while Djokovic claimed a record seventh title by defeating great rival Rafa Nadal in the 2019 final.

In a report published last year, an International Review Panel commissioned to address betting-related and other integrity issues said that players in the lowest tiers were susceptible to being corrupted because of the difficulty of making a living, with only 250-350 players earning enough money to break even. The International Tennis Federation last week announced a series of measures as part of its fight against corruption in the sport’s lower levels.

Meanwhile, Auckland Classic organisers suffered a major setback to their tournament lineup on Tuesday with US Open champion Bianca Andreescu withdrawing due to “knee issues”. The Canadian teenager had been the top seed for the Jan. 6-12 tournament, which is a traditional warmup event for players fine tuning their game ahead of the Australian Open. “Organisers have been advised that Bianca Andreescu has had to withdraw from the upcoming event due to her ongoing knee issues,” the tournament said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are disappointed not to welcome Bianca back and wish her all the best for a speedy recovery.” Andreescu came through qualifying in Auckland earlier this year only to lose to Germany’s Julia Goerges in the final, which she used as a springboard for a sensational 2019. She won her first WTA Tour title at Indian Wells, then beat Serena Williams in the finals in Toronto and again at Flushing Meadows to clinch her first Grand Slam title.

The Auckland tournament had assembled arguably its strongest ever field with Andreescu, Williams, former Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko all confirmed. Two-times Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and American teenagers Amanda Anisimova and Coco Gauff have also entered the tournament before they head to Melbourne Park for the season opening Grand Slam that runs from Jan. 20-Feb. 2. – Reuters