The inaugural International premier Tennis League will go ahead later this year in the Far East and the organisers will be over-the-moon with the participants they have managed to assemble for the first draft and for the publicity the new format is garnering. There will be five host cities and each tie will be played over five sets, with a set apiece for men’s and women’s singles, mixed doubles, men’s doubles and men’s legends. Not too taxing you would imagine. It will surely attract huge interest in the sport in an area that craves the publicity that tennis brings, and all this in what is traditionally the off-season. The new format will allow is to see how interesting tennis can be shorter bursts, which may mean later restructuring at masters and grand slam level. In addition to this, it will be nice for players of the calibre of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras to really feel a part of things again. All in all, a positive experience. But at the risk of being called a cynic…….
We have heard time and time and time again over the past few years that the calendar is too big, that the players are suffering from burn-out, that it’s affecting the longevity of their careers. Players like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have been at the forefront of this argument. We’ve also got Serena Williams who has spent the majority of her career playing the bare minimum of events. Yet, all three of them have jumped at the chance of adding to their already huge fortunes by playing a bunch of, what in all essence are, exhibition matches in their off-season, involving lots of travelling around between numerous cities. The respective chiefs of the WTA and ATP must be aghast that the biggest critics of their circuit calendars have sold their souls and principles down the river for thirty pieces of silver. Now I know that tennis players’ careers are short in comparison with other walks of life, but these are not players who are struggling to make ends meet. They are multi multi-million pound superstars who have basically made all of their previous arguments defunct by signing up for what is nothing more than a cash-collection ego-boosting three weeks.
It comes as no surprise to me that Roger Federer, one of the few players who doesn’t complain about the hectic calendar, is not one of the names on the initial draft list. The record-busting Swiss has never been one to complain needlessly about the sport and organisation that has given him so much and he clearly recognises the need to take his off-season for him in a way of prolonging his stellar career. Add to this honourable list the name of current Australian Open and fellow thirty-something Na Li. Maria Sharapova is another who clearly values the off-season period and the Russian has declined an invitation to join the IPTL draft. If I didn’t respect these three enough beforehand, I certainly do now.
So for me, the IPTL is merely an extravagant sideshow of exhibition matches spread over three weeks of what should be valuable preparation time. For that, I will not be watching or paying it any attention. As for the players who have chosen to take part, good for them. Their play brings a lot of joy to their public and this could open up new doors and a new future for the game. But please don’t think that I will believe that it’s anything more than a self-serving exercise for each player that travels to the inaugural event later in the year. And I’ll never give a single second’s credence to any of those involved should they complain about the unfair schedule of the ATP and WTA seasons at any point in the future.