By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Wimbledon's early victims will be comforted by a larger slice of the total prize money this year after organizers on Tuesday announced a 26 percent pay rise for first-round losers.
The substantial increase for the also-rans dwarfs the 4.5-percent rise for the men's and women's singles winners at this year's grasscourt tennis grand slam.
However, the 1.15 million pounds up for grabs for the champions still represents a 50,000-pounds jump on what last year's victors Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova received.
Total prize money for the June 25-July 8 Wimbledon championships, the 126th edition of the tournament, will be 16.1 million pounds, a 10 percent rise on last year.
Those who crash out in first-round matches on the opening Monday might even be able to spend some of their 14,500-pounds cheque on a spot of lunch as play on all but the two main show courts will begin for the first time at 1130 local time.
The distribution of prize money at the grand slams has been a matter of friction between the players and the sport's hierarchy over the past year with the possibility of a boycott mooted before this year's Australian Open.
Philip Brook, chairman of the All England Club, travelled to Indian Wells this year for talks with the men's "big four" - Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray - about the issue of prize money.
At a news conference at the All England Club on Tuesday he said the increases in the prize money for the game's lesser lights reflected the rising costs associated with professional tennis and did not reward failure.
"For the lower-ranked players the rising costs of professional tennis have outstripped the growth in prize money," said Brook, who used a graph to show how prize money had stagnated for early losers at Wimbledon from 2007-11 but soared for those progressing furthest.
"What we are doing is taking a significant step to redress that gap that had emerged over the last five years."
Winners' prize money, he said, had risen by 130 percent over the past 11 years, while the increases announced on Tuesday meant first-round losers' pay had risen by 93 percent in that period.
"I hope it will be received very positively. There was a need to do something about it and we are proud to have done our part. For sure we know the top players drive the popularity of the sport and we admire them greatly for their skill.
"But what we heard from the top players was not a request of more prize money for them but a responsibility for all those around them. They recognized it was an issue for all the sport.
"Just to be in the tournament, either straight into the main draw, or through qualifying is a big achievement in itself. Half the players do lose in the first round, that's the nature of a knockout sport."
Brook also announced that players who lose in the final qualifying will earn 8,500 pounds - a 21 percent rise. Players in the main draw will also have a 200 pounds daily expense allowance, up from 170 pounds last year.
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.
Earlier this year, Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky, ranked 68, illustrated the disparity in prize money, saying he was out of pocket if he lost in the first round of obligatory Masters Series events.
Despite being comfortably inside the world's top 100 Stakhovsky earned $484,510 in 2011, compared to the $12.5 million that Djokovic earned.
($1 = 0.6213 British pounds)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon)