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The banker to the Open stars

The Australian Open has offered equal prize money to its male and female competitors since the early 2000s. This year, the winners of the event on both sides of the draw will walk away with $A4 million, out of a total prize pool of $A55 million. 

What’s not the same, according to ANZ Player Bank manager David Higgins, is how the players approach dealing with that prize money in the immediate aftermath of their wins. 

“The [player] persona you see on court that's very serious very intense is completely opposite [in person].”

“The women are very independent,” he says with a smile. “The guys are reliant on other people to do things.” 

Higgins has been the manager of ANZ’s pop-up Melbourne Park branch – or the ‘Player Bank’ as it is known – since its inception in 2009. In this time he’s dealt with a number of tennis’ biggest stars as they walk in with their novelty-size (and proper-sized) winners’ cheques – some more directly than others. 

“A lot of the top-seeded men have people to do things for them,” Higgins says. “The likes of your [very well-known men’s players] - they probably wouldn't know where the Player Bank was.”

“Serena [Williams], Maria Sharapova, all the top-seeded women – they all know where it is, they all come in and they’re all happy to have a chat.”

“I'll take Grigor Dimitrov out of that equation,” Higgins says, offering the Bulgarian a reprieve. “He does it himself.”

Branch unkown

The Player Bank - part of ANZ’s long-running sponsorship agreement with the Australian Open - is situated in an area of Melbourne Park inadmissible to the public, offering services to players, umpires and associated Tennis Australia officials.

Beginning life as an office turned into a makeshift branch, Higgins says it has now become a permanent pop-up part of life behind the scenes at the Open. 

“We would install a safe and we would install the equipment we needed to run it pretty much like a branch,” he said of the early days of the idea.

“This year we're very much in the actual players’ lounge, ten steps from Rod Laver Arena. It’s very secure – there’s a lot of security around. A lot of protocols on where you are and are not allowed to walk.”

Higgins’ general impression of the players is they are quite different in person to their public persona.

“The persona you see on court that's very serious very intense – [it’s] completely opposite [in person],” he says – naming former Open-winner Novak Djokovic in particular.

“I can actually remember seeing [Djokovic] before the final in 2013. I saw [opponent] Andy Murray walking down the corridor and he was very focused and very serious.

“Novak was coming in whistling, smiling, high-fiving people down the corridor saying hello to everybody.”

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David Higgins

Unique

Melbourne’s Player Bank is unique among the Slams, Higgins says. 

“Most of the events pretty much say ‘Here's your prize money, it’ll go into your account with the ATP or the WTA and that's it,” he says. “That's their options.”

Higgins is manager of the bank for three week of the year “but probably about three or four months before in preparation,” he says. His small staff are a mixture of those keen on tennis and others just keen on “doing something really different”.

“I've worked with a couple now that have said ‘I probably don't know a lot about tennis and if Roger Federer walked in I wouldn't know’,” he says with a laugh.  “I don’t know if Roger would be happy or sad about that.”

The branch opens a few days before tournament qualifying begins.

“We're there to help players with their winnings to put them into an account if that's what they want to do,” Higgins says.

“If I look at the players I've dealt with during qualifying who unfortunately lost – [in another tournament] they lose on the 14th of January and it might be March before they see their money.”

“We give them an option by saying ‘Give me account details, I'll perform that for you on Monday and it should be in your account by Wednesday or Thursday.’ I think that they see the advantage in that.”

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The pop-up Player Bank

Unsung

It’s the qualifiers, doubles and mixed-doubles players the bank sees the most foot traffic from, according to Higgins. The nature of the tournament means in a weird way most of the branch’s attendees are inevitably losers. So does the mood get sour? Surprisingly not, he says.

“They have a sense of resilience as inevitably they lose more than they win,” he says. “There are 128 entrants [in each singles draw] and only one person wins.”

“They treat it like a job and losing is part of the job. Even when they do win there’s little time to celebrate – it’s on to the next job.”

The winners have a unique buzz, according to Higgins (“they often come in, they’ve got the trophy with them,” he says).

It’s a nice reward for a project even he admits he was initially sceptical about.

“I can remember someone coming to us in 2009 and saying ‘What is the possibility of getting this set up offsite, getting a branch up off site?’” he says.

“I think the first reaction was probably ‘I don't think we're going to be able to do that’. But rather than say no, we decided to say how.”

It’s an attitude they stick by to this day.

Shane White is senior production editor at bluenotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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