Not everything at the U.S. Open will be like it was before the pandemic—2021 will be the first time since 1997 that neither Roger Federer nor Serena Williams will be competing—but one thing that will return to normal is the prize pool.
Due to lost revenue, the total payout to players last year was $53.4 million, a slight dip from $57.2 million in 2019. This year, that number will be an all-time high $57.5 million.
The distribution of that money to the players, however, will be significantly different. The players and tour management agreed to decrease the singles champion prize to $2.5 million, down from $3 million last year and $3.85 million two years ago. Similarly, the runners-up and semifinalists will take home less money than they did in 2020.
The real winners? Everyone else. The payout will increase for all singles players who lose prior to the quarterfinals (accounting for 120 of the 128 players in the draw), especially in the early rounds. The first round prize money is now $75,000, a 23% increase from $61,000 last year.
Additionally, the overall doubles tournament purse is up 4% since 2019, with that excess money funneled toward the early rounds as well. The USTA has also increased its allocation to players in the qualifying draw by 66%, compared to 2019, even though no spectators will be allowed at qualifying rounds due to COVID-19 concerns. In a statement, the USTA wrote that it “worked collaboratively with the players and WTA and ATP management to design the prize money allocation.”
These changes come during a time when many pros have raised concerns about the amount of revenue shared with the players on tour. Two years ago, Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil founded the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) to "provide players with a self-governance structure that is independent from the ATP and is directly responsive to player-members needs and concerns,” according to a document written by the organization. They assert that the ATP and WTA fail to financially take care of all but the very top players in the world due to the conflicting interests of various tennis tournaments and governing bodies. Some players, though, feel that the formation of the PTPA has led to further fragmentation, even if they agree that lower-ranked players could be earning more.
Take Taro Daniel, the last player to receive direct entry into the 2021 U.S. Open men’s singles draw. The 28-year-old, currently ranked just outside the top 100 in the world, has earned $2.24 million in prize money in nearly a decade on the tour. After accounting for coaching, equipment and travel expenses, that total may come out to an annual income of under $100,000.
According to a story in the New York Times Magazine, Christopher O’Connell, a 27-year-old Australian ranked 120th in the world, made just $15,000 in 2019 after deducting expenses. He worked side jobs to earn additional income.
The new U.S. Open prize pool structure should go a little way toward benefiting players like O’Connell, who plays this week in the qualifying draw hoping to earn a spot in next week’s tournament.