By Ossian Shine
LONDON (Reuters) - Wimbledon announced a hefty prize-pot hike on Tuesday, along with a new sustainability project aimed at ensuring it is not just the grass courts that remain green at the All England Club.
Organizers of the oldest grand slam tournament revealed a prize fund of 34 million pounds ($46.57 million) for the 2018 championships, up 7.6 percent from last year.
That figure includes awards of 2.25 million pounds each for the men’s and women’s champions – an increase on the 2.2 million pounds Roger Federer and Garbine Muguruza received in 2017.
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Organizers also issued a warning that players who compete while knowingly carrying an injury, and quit mid-match, face being docked all their first-round prize money. The move is aimed at preventing a repeat of the rash of retirements in early action last year.
"In the wake of first-round withdrawals we pledged to act on it, and we have done so," Wimbledon chief executive Richard Lewis told reporters.
"We were very influential in the creation and adoption of the 50-50 rule and hope the introduction of it will play a significant role in mitigating the problems of first-round singles retirements."
Under the new rule, if an injured player withdraws onsite after midday on the Thursday before the Championships they will receive 50 percent of the first-round prize money. The replacement "lucky-loser" will get the other 50 percent.
With pound signs dominating the headlines at the club in leafy south-west London, tournament organizers also underlined their commitment to combating corruption in the sport and rolling out a sustainability program.
Central to the "greening" of the championships is a ban on plastic straws -- some 400,000 were used at last year's tournament -- the introduction of electric vehicles in the courtesy car fleet; additional water-fill points around the grounds and the provision of paper bags at Wimbledon's shops.
"Sustainability is an important and necessary area of focus, particularly for major events," Lewis said. "We have put in place a sustainability vision which is to sustain the running of the club, and the championships in a way that minimizes the impact on our environment."
Organizers also reiterated they would be implementing rules first announced last November.
In addition to stripping players of their first-round prize money if they pull out of a match or perform to what the club deems "below professional standards", Wimbledon will strictly enforce warm-up timing to speed up the game, but will also extend the time allowed between points from 20 to 25 seconds.
Wimbledon's 2018 prize money eclipses the 55 million Australian dollars ($41.32 million) paid out at January's first grand slam of the year in Melbourne, but at current exchange rates is just shy of the 39.2 million Euros ($47.18 million) on offer at the French Open starting later this month.
The U.S. Open, the final grand slam of the tennis calendar starting in August, is yet to announce its prize money.
Wimbledon, the only grand slam event to be played on grass, will take place from July 2-15.
This year's championships mark the 150th anniversary of the club, 50 years of Open tennis and 125 years of the women's singles championships.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)