WTA lukewarm over new tennis league
SINGAPORE — The Women’s Tennis Association offered only lukewarm support for the new International Premier Tennis League yesterday, with some details still sketchy even after the player draft. Melissa Pine, the WTA’s Asia-Pacific vice-president and tournament director of this year’s WTA Championships in Singapore, also raised concerns over possible player burn-out related to the new “exhibition” event. Pine, speaking to reporters in Singapore, admitted the body which oversees women’s tennis remains unclear on aspects of the IPTL, a multi-city team tournament to be played in Asia and the Middle East from late this year. “We’re really just reading about it as you are. We don’t have a lot of details on the IPTL,” Pine said, as BNP Paribas was announced as the WTA Championships’ sponsor on a five-year deal.
“But I guess just as a matter with the WTA and players, it’s for them to ensure that they’re striking the right balance in the off-season between capitalising on promotional opportunities, while at the same time ensuring they have the proper rest and recovery for the upcoming season.” Asked whether the WTA was broadly supportive of the new initiative, Pine said: “We don’t really have a lot of details, but exhibitions can be good for tennis.” The IPTL, an invention of Indian former doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi, is set to launch in November and December — a rest period for most players — with stops in Singapore, Bangkok, Mumbai and Dubai. The tournament will feature 24 matches across the four cities with each comprising the best of five single-set face-offs in singles and doubles, in an order decided by the home team.
At the draft in Dubai this month, the teams spent nearly $24 million on top players including Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, and retired greats such as Andre Agassi. However, Agassi has since said the tournament clashes with his Thanksgiving holiday, while Pete Sampras appeared unclear on which team he is playing for. Organisers are yet to announce the identities of the team owners who are fronting large sums, including a fee reportedly close to $1 million per night for Nadal. And Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Kei Nishikori and Li Na — Asia’s top-ranked player and a major drawcard — are skipping the tournament altogether. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the IPTL does not have its own website and its Facebook page is out of date.
But the IPTL, inspired by cricket’s Indian Premier League, may yet prove a hit with its made-for-TV format and strategy of targeting Asian and Middle East markets. The event will take place between the WTA Championships, the traditional women’s season finale which is debuting in Singapore, and the start of the 2015 tennis circuit. Pine said it was “critical” that the women playing the IPTL, who also include Victoria Azarenka, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki, scheduled in time to rest and recover. “I think the critical aspect here is that players are managing their off-season time and balancing the promotional and financial opportunities with the critical element of health and recovery period during the off-season,” she said. — AFP