We are back, baby! But it’s definitely not business as usual with the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS).
The worldwide COVID-19 restrictions that disrupted the ATP & WTA Tours’ are now starting to soften.
The months off court have given the game’s many movers and shakers time to pause and reflect on the state of tennis. Chief among them is Serena William’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who is attempting to fill the tennis void that the COVID-19 situation has produced. But he’s not just doing so with standard tennis, he’s doing so with innovation.
This sought after innovation is driven by a particular portion of the tennis fanbase, who feel that the game has long been devoid of ‘characters’. Larger-than-life figures that in the past drew attention & fans to the sport in droves. It’s easy to think of legends like Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe when reflecting on the sport’s past. But it was not the number of grand slams they won that cemented their place in the hearts and minds of tennis fans.
Rather, their ability to fully express their invidiualistic and enigmatic personalities both on & off the court was the reason. The ATP & WTA tour’s have become stiff, rigid and heavily focused on rules and regulations. If tennis is to increase it’s fanbase and grow as a sport in the future, it is imperative that the colourful personalities of the sport are allowed to flourish.
What Will We See?
Things kick off at the Mouratoglou Academy in the French Riviera on the 13th of June. The complex houses 34 hard & clay tennis courts.
Details regarding the rules are:
- Each match will consist of four 10 minute quarters
- Players serve twice alternately – the player with the most points at the end of each quarter wins the quarter
- When the clock runs out in the middle of a point, the point is played out
- When the quarter is a tie – a deciding point is played
- 2 quarters apiece? Sudden Death!
- In sudden death, the player who has more points overall through the first 4 quarters chooses whether to serve or pick a side. Players serve once alternately, and the first player to win 2 points in a row wins the match.
- The shot clock between points is 15 seconds
- Each player is allowed 1 30 second coaching timeout per quarter
Based off Mouratoglou’s various comments in the media, I expect lots of on-court coaching, enigmatic outbursts from players and a willingness to allow for the unknown.
Who Will We See?
The roster of 10 male players announced for UTS is selected with the view of producing entertaining tennis. There’s nicknames, showdowns and even bosing-style posters for each match-up. It may not be for everyone, but it is attention grabbing and something new to absorb.
Here’s the 10 names announced:
- “Domi” Dominic Thiem
- “The Greek God” Stefanos Tsitsipas
- “The Wall” David Goffin
- “The Hammer” Matteo Berrettini
- “The Young Gun” Felix Auger-Aliassime
- “The Rebel” Benoit Paire
- “The Virtuoso” Richard Gasquet
- “The Artist” Dustin Brown
- “The Sniper” Alexei Popyrin
- “The French Flair” Lucas Pouille
Does Tennis Need This?
Yes. Why? Let’s look at a case study – Nick Kyrgios. Despite being ranked 40 in the world, he is a continual walking headline and always a contender for shot of the year. Nick has amassed 1.4 million instagram followers, a massive fanbase and millions of views on Youtube. I would argue that Nick has brought more eyes to the sport in his 8 years on tour than 99% of the ATP tour in that time.
In his justification for UTS, Mouratoglou quotes an average age of 61 for a tennis fan. I’m not quite sure this is correct, but there is a feeling that tennis could start to be left behind in these times. The future of the sport is entirely dependent on it being accessible, paletable and attractive to younger fans to play AND watch. This requires experimentation and innovation.
I think Patrick sums the situation up perfectly in this quote:
“I want tennis to be in our century,” Mouratoglou said. “UTS is taking the best of the past and trying to bring it back but also change the format to be more adapted to how people are consuming videos nowadays. And the goal is to bring new fans on board because the show is going to be faster, more dynamic, much more surprising, more emotional and it’s going to be more of a sprint than a marathon. Nobody is watching a marathon anymore.
“So we have two options — either we say young people are stupid or we adapt to them.”