Wimbledon champs to get more; middle Sunday still open

WIMBLEDON, England -- Wimbledon agreed to equal pay for men and women, phased out curtsies to the Royal Box and is building a retractable roof over Centre Court.

Some things, however, won't change.

Wimbledon officials ruled out scheduling matches on the middle Sunday -- except as an "emergency option" in the event of a major weather backlog -- and said the tournament will not follow the lead of the French Open by starting on a Sunday.

The All England Club said Tuesday it had investigated extending the tournament after poor weather caused scheduling chaos last year.

"At the moment, we have no plans for a Sunday start," All England Club chairman Tim Phillips said Tuesday.

Wimbledon also announced champions will each receive $1.49 million this year, an increase of 5.8 percent. Total prize money for the two-week tournament will increase 3.4 percent to $23.46 million.

Last year marked the first time women earned equal prize money at the grass-court Grand Slam.

Phillips said television interests will not drive a Sunday start.

"There is an argument for the Sunday start and that's partly based on the fact it's a good day to get impact through television," Phillips said. "But we think people notice Wimbledon is on already, so we don't have to go down that route."

Wimbledon is alone among the four Grand Slam tournaments with a middle Sunday rest day. Organizers kept to that tradition last year despite numerous rain delays in the first week.

"We feel that a 13-day schedule is the right amount of time to get value of matches on each particular day," AEC chief executive Ian Ritchie said. "Obviously, if you add a day there is the danger you might thin out the number of games. We are comfortable that 13 days is right and we'll keep the 14th day on standby for weather reasons."

Next year, the completion of a retractable roof over Centre Court will help alleviate the problem.

Last year, the green overhang was removed last, leaving the court more open to the elements. The overhang is back, along with 1,200 extra seats, expanding capacity to 15,000 for the tournament that runs June 23-July 6.

On Tuesday, the first of 10 support structures spanning 22 feet were lifted by cranes over Centre Court. A second will be lifted Wednesday and the remaining eight next year.

New digital scoreboards will be installed, combining scores, the Hawk-Eye line-call challenge system and video.

"Through the new Centre Court facilities and the increased use of digital technology, we want to ensure that Wimbledon remains the tournament the players want to win and that internationally, everyone wants to watch," Phillips said.

But don't expect live replays just yet.

"We won't have replays during the match certainly for this year," Ritchie said. "We feel if it's too instantaneous it maybe will detract from the match itself.

"We'll show some video after the matches have finished, in-between matches. In 2009, we'll produce a lot better content. We're going to be a lot more conservative with it this year."

Wimbledon is looking to install similar screens around the grounds, including on the grassy hill near Court 1.

The weak dollar and fluctuating exchange rates means Wimbledon winners will earn less than the French Open champions, who will get $1.56 million at the clay-court tournament in June. The U.S. Open usually pays the highest prize money of the four majors.

"We don't look at the exchange rates particularly," Ritchie said. "We decide what we think is a decent increase and this year we decided for the winners and the general pool it was a good increase.

"I don't think we necessarily chase being the biggest. We just want to be competitive."

This year marks the end of the traditional sidewalk queues for spectators waiting to buy tickets. Because of health and safety reasons, there will be a single queue in nearby Wimbledon Park for those wishing to camp overnight for day tickets.