By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Wimbledon's early victims will be comforted by a significant increase in prize money this year after organizers on Tuesday announced a 26 percent pay rise for first-round losers.
The winners' cheques for the men's and women's singles will increase to 1.15 million pounds ($1.85 million)for this year's championships at the All England Club, a 4.5 percent, or 50,000-pounds, jump on the amount pocketed by last year's champions Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova.
Total prize money for the June 25-July 8 Wimbledon championships, the 126th edition of the grasscourt grand slam, will be 16.1 million pounds, a 10 percent rise.
Philip Brook, chairman of the All England Club, said organizers had acted to reward the game's lesser lights whose lower earnings, compared to the sport's biggest draws, has prompted talk of possible player boycotts over the past year.
First-round losers in the men's and women's singles this year will earn 14,500 pounds while those who lose in qualifying can look forward to a 21 percent increase in prize money.
"Wimbledon continues to be successful and we are delighted to share that success with the players by increasing total prize money by 10 percent, the largest increase since 1993," said Brook, who met a committee of leading players, including Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, at Indian Wells this year to discuss prize money.
"At the same time, we appreciate the need to help players meet the rising costs associated with professional tennis so the majority of the record 1.5-million-pounds increase will be distributed to those who are knocked out in the early rounds of the championship," he told a news conference.
Wimbledon's move to spread the money more evenly follows that of the French Open which recently announced a rise of 20 percent for first-round losers at this year's tournament. ($1 = 0.6213 British pounds)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon)