Hello and welcome to the fifth issue of Tennis inbox. This week, we explore whether tennis needs a revamp in terms of making it more attractive to a new generation of fans. The US Open is still going ahead—but with severe restrictions. And we get a glimpse of what life is really like on the ITF Tour from British player Alicia Barnett (it sounds difficult). Read on to find out more.
Patrick Mouratoglou wants to make tennis more exciting to attract younger fans
When we or you think of tennis, we might think about the ecstasy of nailing that passing shot down the line, the awe of watching professionals play live for the first time, or the many glorious battles that we’ve all shared on court.
But for a lot of sports fans, tennis is a stuffy, stodgy game for old ladies at the park or those rich a**holes in their country clubs (no offense intended if you are a rich a**hole in a country club).
Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ long-time coach and founder of the Mouratoglou Academy wants to change all that with the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS). Starting on Saturday 13th June, and held in Mouratoglou’s academy in Nice, the league will host 10 matches every weekend for a total of 50 matches over its season. According to Mouratoglou:
“It’s a real competition and it’s a new tour. The players are going to win points, they’re going to earn prize money. And at the end of the year there will be a champion. So they’re going to really compete with the same motivation as if they were playing a tournament.”
How will the UTS be different?
- Games will be shorter and “more dynamic” (no details as of yet to what this means)
- Fans will be able to question players on livestream during the change of ends
- Fans will be able to listen to conversations between players and coaches (presumably this means that on-court coaching is allowed)
- Players won’t face sanctions for emotional outbursts on court
Mouratoglou wants authenticity from players—not necessarily tantrums. He wants “players to be able to be themselves on court and express all kinds of emotions.” Mouratoglou and his partners have apparently done their research as well on what makes live sport engaging and have studied the success of esports and other sports. The UTS website states:
In this new setting, millions of UTS fans are instead glued to their devices, watching and commenting on every serve, stroke, volley and call – all on their own terms. The typical crowd-filled stadium seen at Grand Slams and Masters 1000 events has been replaced by a UTS-sanctioned court equipped with digital screens, HD cameras and speakers that maximize the live-streaming experience to its infinite sea of followers. It is as though the whole world is captured in the all-encompassing UTS stadium.
The event is available on utslive.tv, and subscriptions cost about $11 USD a month. Each match has a prize pot and the winner gets 70% while his opponent gets the remaining 30%. Mouratoglou wants to create the tennis of the future. “I don’t plan to be a competitor to the ATP and the WTA. My plan is to bring new fans to the game.”
The UTS features three players from the ATP top 10 in Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini, and David Goffin. Seven other male players will be a part of the round-robin competition. No word yet as to whether or not there will be a female league of the UTS.
What do you think about the UTS’ ideas? Are a lack of big personalities what’s stopping tennis from growing? How do we go about attracting younger fans to our sport? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section.
With planned changes at the US Open, will the top players even want to compete?
Is it going ahead? Yes. No? Yes. Apparently. Rumors abound as to the state of the US Open. The latest is that it will be going ahead with some severe restrictions: Qualification, mixed doubles, and the junior events will be cancelled. The doubles draw will be limited to 24 pairings. And players will have limits on how many people they can have on their traveling teams. That means no cadre of coaches, physiotherapists, trainers, and sport psychologists for the top players.
The restrictions have forced some top players to ask themselves whether it’s even worth playing in the Open. Ash Barty, currently #1 in the world, concerned about the risks to herself and her team, told the Sydney Morning Herald:
“It’s exciting that tennis is being talked about again and things are moving in the right direction for us to start competing but I’d need to understand all of the information and advice from the WTA and the USTA before making a decision on the US events.”
Novak Djokovic reportedly objected to the limitations on how many team members he could bring, while Rafael Nadal was more concerned about the safety of competing in a city that had been hit so hard by the coronavirus.
Dan Evans (ATP #28) and Danielle Collins (WTA #51) took objection to Djokovic’s hesitance to play if he’s only allowed a limited entourage. Dan Evans told the BBC:
“There has to be a bit of give and take from the players. The majority of the draw would only travel with one coach. Not everyone’s traveling with physios and fitness trainers like Novak said, so I think his argument there is not really valid for the rest of the draw, apart from the real top guys.”
Collins was more blunt:
“No one has been able to play sanctioned events or make money since February. This is a massive opportunity for players to start making money again, and here we have the top player in the world saying only being able to bring one person will be too difficult because he won’t be able to bring his entourage.”
What do you think? While tennis (singles) is an individual sport on the court, as tennis fans we’re all aware that winning a Grand Slam is a team effort behind the scenes. Is it fair to expect the top players to compete without the support teams that they’ve gotten used to? Will the new restrictions even the playing field for lower-ranked players?
What is life like on the ITF Tour? And an ITF Player Panel
Before you can compete on the Challenger Tour, there is the ITF Tour. And the ITF Tour is far from glamourous. Alicia Barnett from Great Britain provides a great insight in her interview with tennis commentator Abigail Johnson. Barnett, who has a career-high singles ranking of #453, reveals a life of staying in hostels, playing on cracked courts, frugality, and having to put down a deposit for practice balls.
Johnson and Barnett also mention the formulation of an ITF Player Panel at the start of the interview, which, according to the ITF, is a new “panel [that] will provide a forum for players to provide their input and have their say on how the tour is run and will be a further opportunity for the ITF to engage with the player community.” Towards the end of the interview, Barnett adds that she’s unsure as to how much power members of the panel will have, but she sees it as a move in the right direction from the ITF. Voting for the panel concluded on Wednesday 10th June, and members are expected to be announced soon.
The first serve Roddick hits? A 142 mph ace. Ad court. The second serve he hits? A 152 mph ace
Before Rafael Nadal became a titan of our game, Andy Roddick was part of the ruling class. The two met for the first time in the Second Round of the 2004 US Open.
This matchup is fascinating because it allows us to see how Nadal used to play and compare it to how he plays now. Today, he has a step-up service motion and his forehand is even more vicious (is that possible?). Though he may have lost a step or two thanks to age, he’s definitely gotten more comfortable around the net.
And we often forget just how good Andy Roddick was—thanks, we think, in part to Roger Federer peaking at the same time that Roddick did. He was a pleasure to watch when he was playing well, and boy—was he playing well in this 2004 match up. Roddick is remembered for his huge serve, but we rarely commend him for being a talented baseliner, which we think he was. You don’t get to #1 in the ATP with just a big serve.
Though Nadal ended up on top with a 7 to 3 lead over Roddick in their Head2Head, Roddick was simply too good on this night, winning 6–0, 6–3, 6–4.