By Alana Mitchelson
(January 21, 2014) MELBOURNE – Lleyton Hewitt has announced he has committed to the International Premier Tennis League for the year, a new development which has been confirmed to debut in November 2014.
Falling between November 28 and December 20, the new series intends to offer quality matches to players during the off-season in a uniquely formatted, team-based tournament. Its main focus is centred around bringing high profile players to Asian countries and entertaining tennis aficionados internationally.
“I have a huge fan base in Asia which is important to me,” Hewitt said.
“That was one key aspect of me getting interested in the first place.
“Especially for myself, playing in Asia is such a big part of the Australian Open, Australasia Grand Slam. Expanding in that market is good for our sport.
“I think that’s the biggest thing for the event as well, for pumping up tennis in the Asia area… I have no doubt there’s going to be a lot of quality players that are still real contenders at the Grand Slams, and I think it needs that.”
Each team will be made up of six to 10 players and will comprise of a combination of categories including current players, tennis legends and the future stars of tennis; both men and women.
Team members in relevant categories will play a round robin in men’s singles, mens doubles, women’s singles, mixed doubles and legends doubles – both home-and-away – with the home team selecting the order of play on the night of the matches.
There will be no advantage scoring and a tie-break at 5-5, making for a time-sensitive format of no longer than three-and-a-half hours duration which is unique to the sport and ideal for television.
The winner of each round will be determined by the most games won by the team as opposed to the number of sets. At the end of the round robin, there will be a grand final to decide upon the champion team.
“Ideally we’d like to get to 10 teams by 2020,” Indian professional tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi said.
“(But) it will be a minimum of five, maximum of six in the first go.”
The cities to be involved in this year’s event are Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Mumbai and one more Middle Eastern city yet to be confirmed.
“I’ve obviously witnessed the Twenty20 Cricket really explode as well. This has been that format where we get the opportunity to play in a close-knit team, which is close to my heart, growing up with Australian football and team sports,” Hewitt said.
“That’s one thing lacking in tennis. We don’t get the chance to participate in a team. I look forward to that.
“I love playing in a team environment. I enjoy that. Travelling around and playing within that timeframe, it fits in well with me.”
There is also talk of a large amount of prize money being invested into the tournament to attract some of the best players the sport has to offer.
According to Hewitt, the Asian tennis league has already received much interest from the players.
“A lot of the talk in the locker room is very positive. I have no doubt there’s going to be a lot of big names released in the next couple of weeks to next month or so.”
But with the dramatic altering of the traditional landscape of the sport, there is a concern that such an unusual format could taint the legacy of the game.
“We’re hoping for a positive impact,” Bhupathi said.
“I think things are changing worldwide. That’s why IPL (cricket) has been so successful. Nothing will ever change the four pillars of our sport which are the four Grand Slams.
“I think the youth of our sport are looking for something fun, innovative. I think this format brings the biggest stars in the world, creating something new and fresh for tennis.”
The player draft is to take place on March 2, in Dubai, later this year.