LONDON (Reuters) - Wimbledon organisers moved to justify a staggering 40 percent rise in total prize money that will give the 2013 championships the biggest prize fund in tennis.
Players at this year's grasscourt grand slam, which starts on June 24, will receive a total of 22.6 million pounds ($34.45 million) with the men's and women's singles champions each pocketing 1.6 million pounds ($2.44 million), slightly more than this year's Australian Open winners.
Last year's Wimbledon singles champions earned 1.15 million pounds.
"These are significant increases and we have made them because we wanted to and not because we had to," All England Club chairman Philip Brook told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday that also outlined plans to put a roof over Court One by 2019.
Asked if the rises were justifiable during a harsh economic climate in which many people struggled to afford tickets for the tournament, he said Wimbledon had to compete with other major sporting events.
"I know the economic climate is difficult, I accept that, but the world that we live in is a world where we are competing with other international tennis events and we also keep an eye on what is happening in other sports.
"We do think that this was a moment in time when we could respond to a subject that has been spoken about a lot over the last 18 months and we have chosen to make these increases this year because we feel it's the right thing to do."
Brook said there had been no pressure from the world's leading players but said the prize-money increases reflected calls for more money for the lesser-ranked players who are often beaten in the early rounds.
Players who lose in the opening three rounds at Wimbledon this year will be the chief beneficiaries of the prize money rises with increases of between 62 and 64 percent.
Those who fail to survive a match at the championships will be rewarded with a 23,000-pound cheque, up from 14,500 pounds last year.
Even defeat in the qualifying rounds will be tempered by a 41 percent rise with 12,000 pounds going to players who fall at the last hurdle before the main draw.
"We started last year focusing the prize-money increases on those that lose in the early rounds or qualifying," Brook told Reuters. "These are not players who are superstars (but) players who are finding their way and not making a lot of money.
"We wanted to build on what we did last year and our increases reflect that.
"We have listened to players and today was a day for us to express how we feel about the players and their importance to Wimbledon."
Outlining plans for the upgrading of the facilities at the All England Club, Brook said a roof over Court One, like the one installed over Centre Court in 2009, would help to maintain Wimbledon's place among the elite tournaments.
Designing a retractable roof on the 11,500-capacity court would be "complicated", Brook said.
"The design process will take two years and then, in view of the fact that the Centre Court Roof took three years to construct, we are looking at 2019 for it to be working."
Other plans included three more show courts, enhanced practice facilities and more landscaping of the south-west London site. ($1 = 0.6560 British pounds)
(Editing by Clare Fallon)