By Sudipto Ganguly
(Reuters) - ATP will spend upto $5.2 million from its funds to shore up prize money for the players at its events, which are financially hit by restrictions on ticket sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the men's tennis governing body said on Tuesday.
The professional tennis circuit, which requires players to jet around the world, was forced into shutdown for five months in 2020 as countries went into lockdown and closed their borders to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
It severely impacted lower-level players, who depend solely on prize money for a living.
Though the disruption has been less severe in 2021, tournaments, barring the swing in Australia, continue to be played without crowds or just a handful of fans.
The ATP 250 and 500 events, which earlier slashed their minimum prize money for 2021 to 50% levels from 2019, will now offer 80% and 60% respectively until Wimbledon, scheduled to start at the end of June.
The men's body estimates the cost to run upto $5.2 million and said it will be primarily funded from the ATP Bonus Pool, which is distributed among the top 12 eligible players at the end of season.
ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi thanked the ATP Player Council, which has Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer representing the top 10 players, for its support.
"Our tournaments' revenues continue to be severely impacted by restrictions on ticket sales, and a substantial improvement on this front looks unlikely before mid-year," Gaudenzi said in a statement.
American players John Isner and Reilly Opelka recently hit out at the ATP management for not taking salary cuts while athletes are suffering due to prize money cuts at tournaments.
Each Tour and challenger event in 2021 received $10,000 from the ATP to cover hotel costs due to additional isolation from COVID-19 positive tests or close-contact situation so that organisers or players are protected from extra expenses.
Last year the ATP, the women's WTA, the International Tennis Federation and the boards of the four Grand Slams raised more than $6 million to help those in financial need while prize pools were rejigged to offer more money during early rounds.
The ATP also started single-year licenses for tournaments to allow more playing opportunities and nine such events have been held since the Tour's resumption in August.
The revised system for calculating rankings since last year has been extended through the week of Aug. 9, the ATP added.
The rankings, a determining factor in a players' ability to enter events and receive seedings, traditionally operate on a "Best 18" results basis over 52 weeks but was revised in 2020 due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
A protected ranking system was also introduced by the ATP on Tuesday to allow players flexibility in their scheduling amid concerns over travelling during the pandemic.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Christian Radnedge)