IPTL – A good thing for tennis?

The International Premier Tennis League held its maiden draw in Dubai over the weekend as it begins preparing for its first exhibition matches at the end of the formal tennis season.

The concept isn’t that dissimilar to the IPL cricket league, in that the tournament will pay some big name players, past and present, big bucks to play in a series of exhibition matches throughout Asia.

The players will pocket a bucket load and the organisers hope they too will pocket plenty. Naturally no one puts it quite this crassly. Those involved all talk about how this event will be staged with the aim of growing tennis in the Asian market, and this is possibly true.

There is no doubt that there is money to be made in this enormous market place and there is nothing wrong with entrepreneurial former tennis player, Mahesh Bhupathi, developing post career business opportunities or with players wanting to maximize their earning potential.

The thing is, does tennis really need a competition like this?

The original concept of six teams has fallen to four and the logistics of transporting teams of players around Asia will be a challenge for organisers.

There is also the question of money.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal is the headline act who will reportedly receive $1 million dollars per game.

This is far more money than what he can make per tournament on the ATP circuit, making this an attractive proposition for any professional tennis player.

At the same time, this does undermine ATP events which cannot pay any player $1 million per day. There are also other exhibition matches held at this time of year and their ability to attract big name players may be adversely affected.

The following big name players have all signed up; Novak Djokovich, Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka and Tomas Berdych.

In the legends category Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic, Martina Hingis and Patrick Rafter will all take to the court.

It’s an impressive list although the absences are just as notable.

Federer has stated he wants to see it up and running before participating, although I suspect with his wife expecting a child later this year, Federer may wish to spend the off season at home with his growing family.

Li Na, who did make an appearance in some early promotional videos for the concept is also not involved, sighting her schedule was set at the end of last year and didn’t include the event.

Kei Nishitori, Japan’s top ranked man is not there either and the absence of Li Na and Kei Nishikori does cast some doubt over the sales pitch that this venture is designed to lift the profile of tennis in Asia.

One would have thought these two would be a must for an event like this.

Russia’s Maria Sharapova is another big name not participating.

Tennis is a big dollar sport and unlike other sports, fans may not be too fussed by the money on offer for this event, but the IPTL does raise a series of interesting questions for the future of some of the sports foundation events, namely the Davis and Fed Cups.

Both the Davis and Fed Cups as competitions seem to always be under scrutiny from tennis players, media and fans.

Many question the relevance of these competitions, their timing in the tennis season and the often waning commitment of the top players to participate regularly.

Tomas Berdych has made himself unavailable for the rest of the year as the Czech Republic seeks to hold onto its Davis Cup title and Federer, Nadal and Djokovich may have all played Davis Cup, but their records are fairly inconsistent.

On the Fed Cup side, Serena Williams could also be said to be an inconsistent performer as well as many other top female players.

The hesitancy of players to represent to their countries and the speed with which they sign up for lucrative exhibition matches may be their right as professionals but these decisions should come under some scrutiny from fans and the media.

Another consideration in thinking about the IPTL, and this is especially pertinent considering the involvement of Nadal, is the argument that the tennis season is already too long.

Nadal has not been shy over the years in proclaiming the tennis season is too long and shortening it is a life or death situation.

As such, it may be a little hard for some to reconcile this long held view with his plans to participate in the IPTL, which will run from late November to mid December.

The other question is also, just how entertaining will these matches be?

Each match will consist of five sets, with each set to be played in a different format.

There will be a men’s singles, a women’s singles, men’s doubles and a mixed doubles. If the match is tied at two all there will be a deciding men’s legends doubles.

Audiences presumably will be satisfied with seeing their idols for just a set and with any luck The Joker will be on hand to entertain.

The IPTL may just take off but it may just as easily flop.

Tennis does not necessarily need reinvigorating but the opportunity to make waves into new markets is perfectly reasonable.

It will be interesting to see just how successful the IPTL will be and if it will produce the returns those involved are hoping it will.

In November we see just how successful this little venture will be.

Team Mumbai: Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras, Ana Ivanovic, Gael Monfils, Rohan Bopanna, Sania Mirza and Fabrice Santoro.

Team Bangkok: Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Carlos Moya, Daniel Nestor and Kirsten Flipkens.

Team Singapore: Andre Agassi, Serena Williams, Tomas Berdych, Lleyton Hewitt, Patrick Rafter, Daniela Hantuchova, Bruno Soares and Nick Kyrgios.

Team Dubai: Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Goran Ivanisevic, Janko Tipsarevic, Nenad Zimonjic, Martina Hingis and Malek Jaziri.


This article was originally published on The Roar


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