The throngs of teenage boys that have spent the past few days screaming outside Anna Kournikova's practice court might not agree, but for now Australian Open organizers remain convinced that the women competing here do not deserve as much prize money as the men.
This year the tournament will award its male singles winner the Australian equivalent of about $528,500, while the women's singles winner will get about $502,000. That is an increase from last year, but it is still not the situation the women enjoyed in the early '90s, when the tournament offered both groups equal prize money. The decision to cut the women's prize money was made in 1996, after organizers determined the men's game offered more excitement and opportunity for profit.
Several players protested the move at the time, and the issue has flared again over the past few days. With the women now making about 95 percent of what the men make, many players have wondered why the tournament doesn't simply close the gap.
"For a couple of years there we weren't as popular as we are now, and they said that's the reason why they took [equal prize money] away, and if we generated more interest, they would give it back to us," Lindsay Davenport said. "Yet it kind of seems like we've done it now, and they've kind of turned their heads and are not budging from giving us back equal prize money."
The U.S. Open is the only Grand Slam offering equal prize money. The greatest disparity in pay occurs at Wimbledon, where the women earn 63 percent of what the men earn. The women's prize money at the French Open is about 90 percent of the men's.
Australian Open spokeswoman Lysette Shaw said organizers are considering leveling the prize money again, noting that "we're sensitive to the issue," but she also said "with increasing the money this year, we feel like we are addressing it."
While the tournament is getting renewed pressure from some players, not everyone believes the situation is all that critical.
"We are not talking about rights and wrongs, and we are not talking about laws--we are talking about money, and we are talking about all of us being all overpaid," Andre Agassi said. "All I can say is that I hope it works out for everybody."
Phone Call for Mr. Okum
Players usually scowl when cellular phones ring midway through their matches, but Mark Philippoussis just laughed Monday night when his opponent, Israeli qualifier Noam Okum, had to temporarily stop play so he could run over to his tennis bag and turn off his ringing telephone. Philippoussis, who went on to win, 6-4, 6-2, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, later said, "I can't complain, because that has actually happened to me." . . .
This tournament is known for its wild displays of fan adulation, and the crowd got its first chance for rowdy chanting, dancing and singing during Australian Richard Fromberg's 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 3-6, 10-8 win over Sweden's Thomas Enqvist. Both players had large camps of fans replete with special shirts, face paint and--in Enqvist's case--helmets with Viking horns. As the marathon match reached its nerve-racking ending, shouts from the crowd could be heard from as far as four courts away. . . .
Patrick Rafter, who had planned to miss the singles tournament as he recovers from shoulder surgery, withdrew from the doubles Monday night.