Palm Springs has been described as the place “where corporate Californians come to die, the happy hunting ground of the golden state. Time here is measured out in long, air-conditioned days behind the high walls and digitally operated drawbridges of country clubs; by night the only signs of life are the thousands of automatic sprinklers which irrigate the desert’s 100 impossibly verdant golf courses.”
That was Tim Adams in The Observer: the point he went on to make was the city had a once-a-year shrine to eternal youth: the Indian Wells tennis tournament.
And youthful tennis players are being celebrated like never before in the desert. For the first time away from the slams and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, a tournament champion will earn a million dollars (so, in the age of equal pay, seven figures for both the men’s and the women’s winners). When your tournament is owned by Larry Ellison, the founder and chief executive of Oracle, and the fifth richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of 39 billion dollars, most things are possible. But this is still a significant moment, and should go some way to placating those locker-rooms militants who believe they are underpaid, especially at the majors. There has been quite a hike from last year when the men’s champion earned 611,000 dollars and the women’s winner took home 700,000, and the overall prize-money pot has been increased by two million dollars from nine million to 11 million. These sort of increases tend to go down well in America, where the masters of ceremonies at the US Open and other tournaments often spell out to the crowd just how much the champion has earned.
It will be interesting now to see how the other tournaments, and in particular the other Masters events, react. In theory, the Masters are all equal. But Indian Wells and Miami each like to regard themselves as the leading Masters. There is some gap now between Indian Wells and Miami now, at least when it comes to remuneration. The men’s champion in Florida will earn only 660,000 dollars, and the women’s champion just 712,000. They will have to think hard before next year’s event about whether they are going to raise those levels to something close to, or above, what Indian Wells are offering. That would lead to just what the locker-room wants: an arms-race in pay between the Masters.
As The Desert Sun newspaper noted: “Ellison has provided financial security to the tournament. His goal is not to turn a bigger profit, it’s to increase the stature of the tournament, already considered the top event outside of the four majors.”
One of Rory McIlroy’s first public acts as the new golf world number one was to play some tennis. At Madison Square Gardens in New York to watch his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki to play an exhibition against Maria Sharapova, the golfer ended up playing a point – and winning it – against the Russian.