MUMBAI: Tennis is set to get a revolutionary league, the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), in which franchise teams based out of four Asian countries will compete. Each team will have six to ten players.
The brainchild of India's 12-time Grand Slam doubles champion Mahesh Bhupathi, the IPTL is inspired by the television-friendly format of twenty-20 cricket’s Indian Premier League in India. Bhupathi is the Managing Director of the league, a property owned by his company Globosport.
The four franchises competing in the league will be based in Bangkok, Mumbai, Dubai and Singapore. Globosport has not disclosed the names of owners of the four franchisees.
The tennis league has the backing of a galaxy of top tennis stars. Bhupati believes the event would be television, spectator and player-friendly because of its unique model. The tourney has been branded by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic as potentially "revolutionary".
Tennis super stars Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and legends Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras will feature in the league. The inaugural edition is expected to be held in December 2014, prior to the Australian Open.
“We wanted a model which was TV friendly, spectator friendly and of course player friendly. The biggest complaint in tennis has been that you have no control over the time of a match. You don't know if a Grand Slam final will be a two-hour match or a five-hour match. Here we are guaranteeing that it will be over in a maximum of three hours, so all are excited,” Bhupathi said.
The owners of the four team owners spent a total of $23,975,000 in an auction for players held in Dubai on Sunday.
The format involves 24 best-of-five round robin matches that will take place in the four cities between November 28 and December 13. The matches will consist of a set each for men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles, mixed doubles, and, if required, a legends singles tiebreak to decide the match. Unlike in a standard match of tennis, where the tiebreak would be invoked if the score reached 6-all in a set, it will be invoked if the score reaches 5-all in any set.
Tennis players often complain of long season which gives them little time to rest and recover, but Bhupathi has managed to convince them to play in the league. Tennis is an individual sport, so we don't get to play team competitions except for Davis cup and Fed Cup, so the players liked this concept of team event.
On why Bhupathi, Justin Gimelstob, a member of the ATP board, and legend Boris Becker chose to concentrate on just Asia, Bhupathi said, “There is a big demand for tennis in the region. The players are involved in exhibition matches during the year. There's a huge appetite for world class tennis here. That's why the Asian cities.”
Globosport had been working on the event for the past 15 months. “It's not easy, since tennis is an individual sport. I spoke to a few players about the concept to make a team event where players will be bought by owners... that's how it all started,” Bhupati expounded.
Since India hosts just one top tier men's event in Chennai Open and no WTA event, watching stars such as Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Djokovic in action in Indian cities would surely be a treat to watch for Indian fans.
Bhupathi also said governing bodies of the game, both ATP and WTA, were very supportive of his project. The IPTL will share all the centrally generated revenue with each of the franchises.
All of those factors should result in a great, winning scenario for all involved - including tennis fans - in these parts of the world which are less frequented by top players. Sunday's draft served as another element to the excitement, and the anticipation will build as the 2014 calendar year progresses and many of these players continue writing their respective legacies.
The first fixtures are scheduled for November 28-30 in Singapore, before the tournament moves to Bangkok (December 2-4), Mumbai (December 7-9) and finally Dubai (December 11-13).