NextGen ATP Finals draw party in Milan proves to be an unforced error

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The NextGen ATP Finals Draw Party in Milan (Credit: Getty).

The tagline for the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals tournament in Milan this week is: ‘The future is now’. Sadly on Sunday night at the official draw party, it felt like we went back in time.

We gathered at Arome, the venue for the Red Bull-sponsored NextGen Finals Draw Party, to find out which player would land in which round-robin group.

Little did we know that the process would involve female models with the letters A or B hidden somewhere on their bodies, which they unveiled once a player “chose them”.

That is how the draw for the 21-and-under tournament was determined.

The first two models each carried their respective group letter as they strutted down the catwalk accompanying the top two seeds Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov.

From then on, the next seed was given a choice of one of two models. Once he made his decision, she would take him down the catwalk, and provocatively reveal the hidden letter that would indicate which group he’d play in. The following seed would then be escorted by the other non-chosen model.

There was inappropriate dancing, gloves that were removed by a player’s teeth, and many more cringe-worthy moments but I’ll spare you the details.

Most of the players looked visibly awkward, while some laughed their way through it. I personally felt deeply sad watching it all unfold.

‘Why is this happening in my sport?’ was my initial thought.

I’ve long loathed the way cyclists were given their winners’ jerseys in the presence of two podium hostesses whose sole purpose was to kiss the cheeks of the champion on stage. Motorsport is not much different.

But even cycling is finally starting to acknowledge how sexist and old-fashioned its jersey ceremony is and Vuelta organisers this year introduced male models to accompany the women. It’s not a complete solution but at least it was a tiny step forward to change a long-standing appalling habit.

Denis Shapovalov on stage during the draw party.

Denis Shapovalov on stage during the draw party.

Why a tournament that is meant to be focused on the future of tennis would choose to regress in that manner is truly beyond me? Who thought it would be a good idea to handle the draw that way? And what kind of message are they sending to the young fans they are trying to attract to the sport?

This is an event featuring eight players aged between 18 and 21. How about the ATP – and co-organisers the Italian Olympic Committee and Italian Tennis Federation – focus on the great values the sport stands for rather than instill sexist, antiquated behaviour in their so-called ‘NextGen’?

If they wanted to go with the theme of Milan being a fashion capital of the world, there were many ways they could have done so without being wildly sexist and inappropriate.

It reflects a complete detachment from reality on their part, especially in this day and age.

I’m all for the tournament pushing boundaries by testing out new rules. If it results in a snappier version of tennis that is appealing to a large audience then so be it.

But Sunday night wasn’t about new rules. It was about old ones I had hoped were disappearing from sport. Clearly I was wrong!

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