New rules please as IPTL starts

Tennis heads into a brave new era this weekend when the International Premier Tennis League debuts its fast-paced, TV-friendly format which is already making waves in the sport.

Scepticism has mingled with curiosity in the build-up to the team event, which will dramatically shorten matches and aims to jazz up tennis as a spectacle by adding DJs and dancers.

Attention is guaranteed by an impressive roster of players, including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, as well as former stars like Andre Agassi.

Far from the tennis bastions of London, New York and Paris, ties will be played in Manila, Singapore, New Delhi and Dubai, representing new frontiers for the sport.

But what most defines the Asia-focused IPTL is its adventurous format: team ties consisting of five one-set matches, with no advantages and the first to six games wins.

A 20-second shot-clock between points guarantees quick play, and at 5-5, players go into a timed shoot-out in which they must accumulate the most points before time is up.

Players can also call a “power point” once per set, meaning the next point will count double.

While it’s unknown how audiences — and players — will take to the new rules, there’s no doubt the brainchild of ex-doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi has already had an impact.

The women’s professional tour is discussing holding a World Cup-style team event, and the similar but smaller-scale Champions Tennis League started in India this week.

In January, Roger Federer will play Lleyton Hewitt in Sydney in another new, faster format featuring no advantages, no service lets and first-to-four-games sets.

The changes reflect an exploratory shift away from the stuffier, more traditional aspects of tennis. At this year’s US Open, loud music boomed out during changeovers.

“I think we’re focusing on the experience. So you’re going to see men, women and legends, you’re going to have music, giveaways, cheerleaders,” Bhupathi told AFP.

“Hopefully the kids will have fun, the parents will have fun and the grandparents will have fun, that’s our goal.”

Bhupathi hopes the tournament will grow to from four to eight teams in the Asian region by 2020, with China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Japan among the potential destinations.

But first the IPTL will need a successful launch, starting on Friday in the Philippines capital where Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova headline the Manila Mavericks.

“There’s a lot of intrigue, there’s a lot of excitement, there’s a lot of scepticism. Obviously we feel like the format should work… we’ve made it time-sensitive and got our fingers crossed,” Bhupathi said.

“The sceptics have been there for the last two years, and now they’re like, ‘Holy crap! It’s actually happening’. Let’s see what they say about the season.”

Other stops in the IPTL season are Singapore from Dec 2-4, New Delhi from December 6-8 and Dubai from December 11-13.


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