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Sharapova not backing pay rise for first round losers

(Reuters) - Maria Sharapova is not convinced it is a good idea to give first round losers at next year's Australian Open a huge pay increase as part of a $4 million rise in overall prize money.

Tournament organizers announced earlier this month that the total prize money pool at the opening grand slam of 2013 had risen to $30 million, making it the richest event in tennis.

While the exact breakdown of prize money is yet to be announced, it is expected that the biggest increases will be weighted towards the early rounds -- a move intended to counter concerns that lower-ranked players were struggling to sustain careers on the ATP and WTA Tours.

Roger Federer, president of the men's ATP Player Council, has expressed sympathy with the rank and file players who rarely reach the latter rounds of major tournaments where the big money is made but Sharapova is not convinced it is a good move.

"I don't know if I agree with a raise for a first-round loss," the Russian, who is playing at the WTA Championships in Istanbul this week, was quoted in The Times on Tuesday.

Sharapova and the other seven competitors in Istanbul met with officials of the four grand slams on Monday.

"I think the compensation as you win more rounds is right, but I'm not sure about the first rounds," added the French Open champion.

The rise in Australian Open prize money followed similar increases at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

This year's Wimbledon championships saw first round losers in the men's and women's singles pocket a cheque for 14,500 pounds ($23,300) -- a 26 percent rise from 2011.

GRADUAL PROGRESS

Players have long argued that the percentage of total revenue from grand slams set aside for prize money should be increased. There was even talk of a boycott of next year's Australian Open before the increase was announced this month.

While not enthused by the prospect of first round losers enjoying a financial boost, Sharapova said she was happy the Australian Open had taken the lead.

"If you compare the percentage of what we (the players) are making compared to the other grand slams, certainly the Australian Open is doing a much better job of compensating us based on their revenue," the 25-year-old, who has earned $22 million in prize money alone, said.

"They are under a lot of pressure because they are the first slam of the year, but I think that the other grand slams need to step up, based on what they make, because their revenue is much bigger than Australia's."

WTA Player Council member Serena Williams, winner of this year's Wimbledon, Olympics and U.S. Open titles, said she was happy with Tennis Australia's decision to raise prize money.

"I know everyone's complaining about the amount of prize money, but it was a good increase," the American said.

"We know the tournaments are making so much money off of us. We can't start out asking for 30-40 percent (more). Hopefully we can gradually make more progress every year."

Sharapova was embroiled in a row with Frenchman Gilles Simon at Wimbledon this year when he suggested women should not enjoy the same prize money as men at grand slams.

(Writing by Martyn Herman in London; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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