WIMBLEDON: Wimbledon will pay women and men equal prize money for the first time at this year's grasscourt Grand Slam, All England Club chairman Tim Phillips said on Thursday.

The tournament broke with its tradition to join the Australian and U.S. Opens in paying equal prize money across the board in all events and in all stages of competition.

``This year the committee decided unanimously that time was right to move to equal prize money and bring to a close a long progression,'' Phillips told a news conference.

Prize money for the 2007 Championships will be announced in April.

Wimbledon had been criticised for years for maintaining a discrepancy in the prize money offered to its male and female competitors. Last year Roger Federer earned £655,000 ($1.28 million) for winning the men's title while women's champion Amelie Mauresmo took home £625,000.

The All England Club had previously defended its stand by highlighting that women contested best-of-three-set matches while the men had best of five.

The French Open introduced equal pay for their men's and women's singles champions in 2006 but remains the only major tournament not to offer the same prize money throughout the rounds.

Wimbledon's decision to offer women parity was welcomed by the WTA tour and players alike. Venus Williams, a former triple champion at Wimbledon, said: ``The greatest tennis tournament in the world has reached an even greater height today. I applaud today's decision, which recognises the value of women's tennis. The 2007 Championships will have even greater meaning and significance to me and my fellow players.''

The unequal pay policy had gone back 123 years. When the women started playing at Wimbledon in 1884, the female champion received a silver flower basket worth 20 guineas, while the men's winner got a gold prize worth 30 guineas. Agencies

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