IPTL CEO Morgan Menahem: Serving up a tennis version of the IPL

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Count me in: Tsonga has confirmed his participation in the IPTL.

All eyes may be currently focused on the tennis action Down Under, but behind the scenes, plans are underway for the inaugural International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), set to take place at the end of the year.

The brainchild of Indian tennis veteran and doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi, the IPTL, was officially announced last year in May right before the kick-off of the French Open.

It is a tennis league, modelled on cricket’s financially successful Indian Premier League, set to take place over three weeks in November and December 2014 with the aim to bring world class tennis to cities across Asia in a new and exciting format.

The league will feature five franchise teams – all in Asia – with each team ideally including between eight to 10 players, of both men, women – active players as well as legends.

Team owners will have to allocate up to $10 million (Dh36.7m) as a budget for the players’ salaries along with $12 million (Dh44.7m) for a 10-year term.

The matches will be no longer than three hours, to make them more appealing for TV and viewers.

Speaking to Morgan Menahem, the CEO of the IPTL, the Frenchman confirmed that four of the five franchises will be in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Mumbai.

Menahem, who is also the agent of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, is based in Dubai and says they are hoping to have the fifth team based somewhere in the Gulf region.

“We’re in talks with a few people in the region who are interested. There’s definitely some strong interest. We’re really confident that we’ll get a team from the Middle East,” Menahem (below) told Sport360°.

Many top players have shown interest and publicised their commitment to playing in the IPTL including the likes of Serena Williams and Tsonga. Novak Djokovic called the concept “revolutionary”.

Andy Murray, who was initially committed to the project, refused to confirm his participation when asked by Sport360° last December during the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi. But the Scot world No4 maintains that he still thinks “it’s a good idea”.

Tsonga agrees with Murray, even though the league dates will overlap with the official tennis calendar’s off-season – a time where players are either vacationing, or busy preparing for the following year.

“I think it’s a good idea because it’s going to be good for tennis. It will develop the sport everywhere in the world. “Today we have four majors that are huge, but tennis is not for two or three or four countries, it’s for the whole world and I want it to be worldwide,” said Tsonga.

“The matches are a little bit shorter so we won’t be too tired after that, so it won’t be difficult to practice for the next season at the same time.”

Menahem also explains that a team member is not obliged to play all dates.

He said: “It’s a simple yet complicated scenario. But none of the players are obliged to play first of all. If a player says ‘it will fit in my training regimen and I want to play two or three dates’ then we can work around that.

“It’s not a commitment where the players are obliged to play all matches. They can play a few matches, all of the matches – it’s a case by case scenario.

“Realistically, to make a team you need between eight and 10 players. To work around injuries, one guy missing a match but playing the following one… that kind of thing.”

The draft for the five teams will take place in Dubai following the ATP 500 tournament which concludes in the emirate on March 1.

There will be five categories of players and every category will have a base price. Players will be slotted on the basis of ranking, popularity and potential.

“Once we have the draft, we’ll be able to better work with the local teams and their local partners to set up everything.

“The schedule is going to be like the NBA a little bit. There’s going to be 20 matches over the three-week period so we have to figure out what’s the best way to cut the travel time for some of the players,” says Menahem.

Bhupathi and Menahem have hired the company MP & Silva to sell the TV rights for the league, which is expected to generate a large chunk of the revenue. 

The top tennis tournaments in the world can make between $30 million (Dh110m) and $70 million (Dh257m) per year in TV rights deals.

ESPN pay an annual average of more than $70 million for all US Open rights, Seven West Media pay about $35 million (Dh128.5m) a year for the Australian Open rights, while the BBC’s latest contract extension (from 2015 to 2017) will see them pay around $38 million (Dh139.5m) per year for Wimbledon rights in the UK.

It is unclear how much money the IPTL can bring in through TV rights sales but both Bhupathi and Menahem believe they can attract top networks simply because match times are limited to a maximum of three hours, which will also be appealing to spectators.

“It will be broadcast worldwide we’re very confident about this,” assured Menahem. “It’s a made-for- TV event, so it’s definitely something that’s going to attract TV viewers at a time where there’s no tennis on.

“You come to a tennis tournament and you don’t know who you’re going to see because it’s all up in the air and you don’t know when it starts and when it finishes.

“With this, you’re going to know who’s going to play on that day, what time the matches start, what time the matches finishes and what we’re going to build around that. Because there’s going to be some outreach programmes for kids.

“There’s going to be community outreach in every single one of the cities we’ll be in and there’s going to be a charitable aspect as well, because it’s something very important for us.

“One of the best-run programmes is NBA Cares and if we’re 10 per cent of what NBA Cares does then it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

The organisers believe the number of teams will increase following its inaugural season and Menahem says there is a huge potential for growth.

“Who says that in 10 years time we’re not going to have the Americas, Europe, Asia, and they play against each other and then we have a Grand Final in Abu Dhabi or in Dubai for example.

“Kind of like the world championship of soccer for clubs. If I tell you it’s something we think about people are going to say we’re crazy, but if it happens it happens,” said the Frenchman.

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Third time lucky as Li Na storms to Australian Open title

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Queen of Melbourne: Li Na hoists the Australian Open trophy.

China's Li Na stormed to her second Grand Slam title on Saturday, battling past brave underdog Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (7/3), 6-0 to become the oldest woman ever to win the Australian Open.

The 31-year-old fourth seed was crowned the Melbourne Park champion on her third attempt after losing in the 2011 and 2013 finals, adding to the French Open title she won three years ago.

In doing so, she became the oldest winner of the women's title, surpassing Margaret Court who was 30 when she became champion in 1973.

The Chinese star also joins an exclusive list of just seven other players to win a Grand Slam at 30-plus, with her name now in the history books alongside greats such as Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Serena Williams.

The win pushes her one place higher in the world rankings to three, just 11 points adrift of Victoria Azarenka in second behind Serena Williams.

It was a gutsy effort by the Chinese star, who overcame the pressure of having lost twice before while bearing the weight of expectation from her homeland of 1.3 billion people.

While the diminutive Cibulkova, nicknamed the "pocket rocket", has been in the best form of her life, Li was the favourite and used her experience to take out the Slovak after a tight first set lasting 70 minutes.

Li got off to the best possible start, going 1-0 up on the Cibulkova serve when the Slovak gifted her the game with a double-fault on a second break point.

The Chinese star comfortably, with the 24-year-old Slovak struggling to produce any decisive returns as her shots repeatedly failed to find their mark.

But she crucially came through the third game, fighting off two break points, one with a lovely passing shot, to stay in touch at 1-2.

Li held in the next as she dictated the rallies, but her first serve was becoming a serious problem. After three service games she had only got 13 percent of first serves in and was seen looking at her husband Jiang Shan in the crowd while pointing to her racquet.

This opened the door for Cibulkova, with two Li double-faults allowing her to break back for 3-3. A decisive service game then put the Slovak in front for the first time as the momentum began swinging in her favour.

But Li soon ironed out her issues and it went with serve till 5-5 when she pounced, stroking a sumptuous cross-court backhand for break point.

A Cibulkova backhand into the net put Li 6-5 up and serving for the set. But Li was unable to ram home the advantage with the Slovak breaking back to force a tiebreak, in which Li finally prevailed after producing some scintillating winners.

She kept up the pressure, holding serve in the second set then breaking Cibulkova, who pushed a forehand wide, to take a firm grip on the final. Li raced to a 3-0 lead then broke again as Cibulkova ran out of steam as the pressure got too much.

Li won on the Cibulkova serve when the Slovak sent a forehand long, raising her arms in celebration before climbing into the stands to greet her husband, Jiang Shan, and her coach Carlos Rodriguez.

The victory helps Li, the poster girl for a huge push by women's tennis into Asia, make up for the misery of losing the final twice before.

She was a set up before falling to Kim Clijsters three years ago, and in 2013 was also ahead against Victoria Azarenka but rolled her ankle twice, banging her head hard on the court the second time.

Despite her defeat, Cibulkova, who has impressed at Melbourne with her relentless energy and eye-catching shots, will move up to 13 when the new world rankings are released on Monday.

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Federer hits out at Nadal antics after Melbourne defeat

Simon Foster 24/01/2014
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Unimpressed: Federer (l) had some choice words about Nadal's antics.

Roger Federer railed against Rafael Nadal's loud grunting and slow play Friday after he tumbled out of the Australian Open at the hands of the aggressive Spaniard.

The usually ice-cool Swiss had sharp words with the umpire mid-match about the Spaniard's ball-striking grunt, and complained he repeatedly goes unpunished for time violations.

Federer's polished demeanour slipped after he crashed to a seventh consecutive Grand Slam defeat to his rival and in straight sets, in an anti-climactic semi-final in Melbourne.

Federer admitted he found Nadal's grunt distracting because the Spaniard was making a noise during some points, but not others. Nadal won 7-6 (7/4), 6-3, 6-3 for his 23rd win over Federer.

"It goes in phases. One point he does and he doesn't. That's just what I was complaining about," Federer said. "Had no impact on the outcome of the match."

He added that fidgety Nadal, who is notoriously slow to serve, should have racked up several time violations during their 33-match rivalry — but instead, he has only received two.

"Rafa is doing a much better job today than he used to. I mean, I'm not complaining much about the time. But I think I've played him, what, 33 or 34 times," Federer said.

"He's gotten two point penalties over the course of our rivalry. I just think that's not quite happening. I mean, we know how much time he used to take.

"I'm not complaining about so many things. But, I mean, either you have rules or you don't. If you don't have rules, it's fine. Everybody can do whatever they want to do."

He added: "I didn't lose the match because of that. It didn't bother me. I just felt I had to mention something."

Nadal looked surprised when told about Federer's exchange with the umpire, and said nobody had complained about his grunting before.

"I really didn't know that. When I am playing, when I am hitting the ball during the point, the last thing that I am thinking is trying to bother the opponent," he said.

"The only thing that I am focusing on is trying to hit my ball well. That's it.

"I am sorry if I bothered somebody, but I never did in the past. So is something that nobody in my career, you know, told me nothing about this, that I am bothering the opponent.

"But if I bothered him in any moment, he knows 100 percent it was not because I wanted to. I never do anything on the court to bother the opponent. I think I did the normal things that I do in every match."

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