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Purse rises in England, falls in U.S.

WIMBLEDON, England -- The Wimbledon champions are getting a big increase in prize money this year, at least when it comes to the British pound.

The prize for each of the men's and women's champions went up by 13.3 percent to $1.24 million, organizers said Tuesday, but the pound's weak exchange rate means that translates to a reduction in dollars of 17 percent from last year's $1.49 million.

Buoyed by a new television contract in Asia and the extension of its commercial agreement with IBM, the tournament has also raised the total prize fund for the June 22-July 5 tournament by 6.2 percent to $18.38 million.

But that still compares unfavorably with last year's $23.46 million despite the increase being nearly double the 3.4 percent hike the All England Club managed 12 months ago.

All England Club chairman Tim Phillips said the event was doing what it could to help offset the weakened exchange rates and maintain the prestige among players of the only grass-court Grand Slam.

"Most of the players here don't bank in sterling," Phillips said. "We have to be mindful of the fact that a year ago it was $2 to the pound."

The pound has dropped by more than 25 percent against the dollar since last year's prize money was announced, and has slumped by about 11 percent against the euro. On Tuesday, the exchange rate was $1.45 to 1 pound.

The All England Club also announced a five-year extension of its sponsorship with IBM, which advises on and helps implement new technologies at the event, and said that it had signed a new broadcast deal with Star Sports Asia.

"In this climate, it's a vote of confidence in Wimbledon," All England Club chief executive Ian Ritchie said. "In the current climate, it would be foolish for anyone to be complacent, but we feel the strength of the brand is coming through and commercial opportunities continuing unabated."

Ritchie said the tournament was in good financial health despite the global economic crisis, pointing out that the All England Club had received 20 percent more ticket applications than in 2008.

Meanwhile, this year's tournament will feature the unveiling of a sliding roof over Centre Court. The roof will be operational for the first time, guaranteeing play on the show court whatever weather is provided by the fickle English summer.

Breaks in play will not be eliminated, however, as the translucent roof, which weighs 1,000 tons, takes 10 minutes to close fully. Another 20 or 30 minutes are needed for the air management system to regulate humidity so that the turf does not become slippery and condensation drips down.

While the roof allows sufficient light for play in most conditions, a system of 120 lights means play can continue in fading light and when it is dark outside.

"We don't want to see nighttime tennis and we hope and believe that that the matches would finish in daytime hours," Ritchie said. "But if they don't finish we will close [the roof] and finish them.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.