Tennis is preparing to go Twenty20 with a blast of quick, made-for-television sets starring the best players in the world.
The event is backed by the wealth of princes and governments across the Middle East and Asia and is to be installed by the end of the year in an effort to derive the maximum benefit from its present golden age.
A November launch is being readied for the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), a city-based franchise league that will showcase not only those winning today’s Grand-Slam tournaments, but also past stars. The planning is that the inaugural league will be played from late November until just before Christmas, with players criss-crossing Asia, as matches are played on a home-and-away basis.
It is understood that a number of the present crop of top names are already contracted to the IPTL and they will be auctioned in much the same way as the Indian Premier League operates in cricket.
The players — with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray likely to become leading targets, as well as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova — will have a base price under which franchise owners cannot bid. Roger Federer cannot figure this year after agreeing a second exhibition tour of South America at the end of the regular season.
The brainchild of the IPTL is Mahesh Bhupathi, a doubles specialist and the managing director of Globosport, promoted as India's top sports, entertainment and new media conglomerate.
Bhupathi is about to join Murray’s business team in a new advisory role and a spot leading one of the top franchises in Asia will undoubtedly help the Scot’s marketability.
The idea is that each league franchise would have a minimum of six players categorised as ‘marquee’. The salary band for each team is likely to be set between $4m and $10m.
An IPTL match is planned to consist of five sets, with no-advantage scoring, one set each of men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, mixed doubles and a legends singles. No entire match would exceed three hours and would thus be an ideal television package.
The team who win the highest number of games in the five sets would win the overall match. The first season is likely to have six teams, one for each of the short-listed cities, with the prospect of adding more.
That Asia is being pinpointed as the focus for the league’s launch is no great surprise. The demand for tennis in countries such as Japan, India and Qatar is exceptional, but so is the need to make the matches shorter and more explosive, keeping as much tradition as possible on the one hand but bowing to the edgier desires of the youth.