#360view: IPTL must be tweaked to survive

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No-show: Serena Williams pulled out of this week’s Singapore leg of the IPTL.

For a while there, it looked like the third season of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) would never see the light before organisers finally made an announcement just eight days prior to the event’s kick-off.

IPTL founder and managing director Mahesh Bhupathi addressed the media on November 24, and unveiled a compact version of the league. It went down from five stops to three and from five teams to four.

The stellar cast that stole the show in the first two editions of the league also took a hit. Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova are all absentees.

With little information revealed on what exactly happened behind the scenes that forced organisers to cram to put together a condensed version of the league, it’s tough to judge this season three of the competition.

Economic troubles in India have also compounded the IPTL’s woes. It’s obvious that star names are key to its success but having watched parts of the opening leg in Japan, the team aspect of the IPTL remains an incredibly compelling factor.

Watching Goran Ivanisevic and Marat Safin face off, then listening to Tomas Berdych and Thomas Johansson give tips to Ivanisevic on how to come back against the Russian is simply good television.

Add to that the fact that Ivanisevic is actually Berdych’s coach on tour and it gets kind of funny. While sustainability is obviously a concern considering everything that happened this year, some version of this league deserves to survive, because it is exciting, different and shows a light-hearted side of tennis so rare to see these days.

Bhupathi marketed the IPTL as a “revolutionary idea” . Would it have been better to be more reserved at the start and increase the level of expectation gradually each season? Perhaps.

The fact remains that the massive appearance fees top players request will continue to be an Achilles’ heel for the IPTL. It might have been better to get people excited about the format and concept itself from the start, rather than focus on the ‘Big Four’ element.

That way, people would tune in irrespective of the line-up. Axing Dubai was a smart move because the team owners here simply did not know how to market it the right way and couldn’t draw in the crowds.

Visiting tennis-hungry cities will prove imperative for the league’s survival and figuring out a way to make it attractive to the masses without a full cast of ‘Big Four’ calibre could prolong its lifetime.

Great ambition is what created the IPTL. Scaling it back and going back to the drawing board is what might keep it afloat.

SMART CHANGES FROM ATP TOUR

News broke out this week that the ATP has made some interesting changes to the 2017 Rulebook, including one that addresses the issue of first-round retirements.

It’s no surprise that every time a player retires during a first round match at a tournament, question marks are raised whether that person already knew they were injured but started the match in order to receive prize money.

If that is the case, then the player denies a lucky loser a chance to take part in the main draw in order to pocket a paycheck, knowing he or she is not fit to compete and will retire from a match a few games in.

Smart move: ATP CEO Chris Kermode.

Smart move: ATP CEO Chris Kermode.

This situation may now be avoided with the new ATP rule that will be tested out in 2017. It states that ATP players can withdraw on-site prior to competing in a first round of an event and will still be rewarded full prize money from the round which they withdrew from.

The lucky loser that will take his place is entitled to the prize money for the round he reached and for the final round of qualifying. A player can only opt to use that rule twice in a season, and never in two consecutive weeks.

It is a smart move from the ATP and by testing it for a year, they can actually see how effective it is and whether the number of first-round retirements will go down as a consequence.

It’s nice to see the ATP resorting to common sense for an issue that has existed for a long time.

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