IPTL Begins With a Big Bang: Legends Set the Tone


IPTLThe Indian tennis fans have been delighted as international legends and world-class players stepped on Indian soil to showcase one of the greatest matches, the International Premier Tennis League. The event that concluded on December 13 in Dubai saw the Indian Aces, which comprised of Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Ana Ivanovic, and others, grab the trophy at the Hamdan Sports Complex there. The winners, along with the diamond trophy, were also presented a $1 million cheque. The UAE Royals bagged the second position followed by Manila Mavericks at the third spot. Singapore Slammers ended up with the last position at this prestigious event.

After the tennis fans getting a treat of Leander Paes’s game in the recently concluded Champions Tennis League, it was time for the Mahesh Bhupathi-founded IPTL to get the best of tennis players to India and feed the tennis-starved fans with incredible tennis.

The beginning 

It all started in year 2013 when Mahesh Bhupathi made it formal in Paris by declaring the foundation of the International Premier Tennis League. Similar to the Indian Premier League (Cricket), IPTL’s primary preparation was to begin the league with six contract franchises in Asia with the first season beginning in November 2014. The League focused on getting star players to the audience of Asia and making it successful.

Early 2014, IPTL named the locations of the franchises for the inaugural IPTL season. Accordingly, the five franchises had to play home matches in Mumbai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The sixth one had to play its home matches in the Middle East which wasn’t named at that moment.

As the media was abuzz with tennis news particularly the IPTL, there were reports that there would only be five franchises instead of six. In February 2014, there came news that five franchisees (one based in Hong Kong) excluding the Middle East will be there in the IPTL. In March 2014 the players draft for the inaugural IPTL season was planned. Until this time there were speculations that Middle East would be out of the race and that Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong would be part of the league.

Finally, there were only four teams that participated – Bangkok (whose franchise was later shifted to Manila, Philipines, due to political reasons), Singapore named as Singapore Lions, Mumbai named as Indian Aces and Middle East which came to be known as the Dubai Franchise which later was confirmed as UAE Falcons in May 2014. There was no name of Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur in the draft. The names of the teams changed to Manila Mavericks, UAE Royals and the Singapore Slammers by June.

Indian IPTL franchise

In June 2014 a press release by this tennis league named the four franchises. The Indian franchise owner, Micromax Informatics Ltd came instead of entrepreneur Prasad V Potluri and Sachin Tendulkar’s PVP ventures. And the Micromax group preferred Delhi as the home match venue for their team instead of Mumbai which was preferred by PVP group. The reasons for the replacement according to Mahesh Bhupathi were missing the payment deadline. However, PVP didn’t agree to it saying it was solely because the group was unclear and lacked transparency of business model. Also, player contracts were an issue according to PVP who disagreed to salaries being the only reason of franchise withdrawal or replacement.

The legends and the IPTL teams

After all the drama of competitor withdrawals, owners pulling out, franchises being re-named and failing to get Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur franchises in IPTL, the inaugural season of Bhupathi-led USD 40 million league commenced on 28 November, 2014.

The four teams had star players and legends as part of their teams. The enthusiasm of Indian fans was high. The eagerness to just have a look of their favourite players was incredible. Tennis fans tried clicking pictures with their favourites such as World No. 2 and 17-times Grand Slam winner as well as a heart-throb, Roger Federer.

The 24-match tournament which was played in a round-robin format comprised of four teams – Manila Mavericks team with Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kirsten Flipkens, Daniel Nestor, Treat Huey and Carlos Moya. Singapore Slammers had Serena Wiliams, Andre Agassi, Tomas Berdych, Lleyton Hewitt, Bruno Soares, Nick Kyrgios, Patrick Rafter and Daniela Hantuchova. Micromax Indian Aces comprised of Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Ana Ivanovic, Gael Monfils, Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna and Fabrice Santoro. Musafir.com UAE Royals had Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic, Caroline Wozniacki, Kristina Mladenovic, Malek Jaziri, Nenad Zimonjic and Goran Ivanisevic.

The IPTL format and the procedures

All the IPTL matches had five sets in categories – Men’s singles, Women’s singles, Men’s doubles, Mixed doubles and past champions singles. A coin toss allowed the coach to choose the order of play. The first serve of the first game set was also decided with a coin toss. It was decided that the team which served last in the game or ended in a tiebreaker in a previous set would receive the turn in the next one. Power point could be called in each set and the next point counted as double. For example, a player struggling with 15-0 could directly get to 15-30 by winning this power point. Every game that was won by a player or a doubles team provided one point to the team’s score line. Eventually, the team with highest points by the end of five sets would win the match.

A shot-clock was used to keep a note of countdown during change-over and for between points. A maximum of 20 seconds between every game point and three minutes between each set was allowed. The team was also allowed to call its coach for a timeout one time during each set, the timeout being restricted to a maximum of 60 seconds. One player substitution for every team per set was allowed. However, the team with the match lead in the final set wasn’t allowed. Four points would be added to the total score in team standings for the team that emerges victorious in match tie.

On the other hand, the losing team adds around 20 points and gets two points in the team standings. Losing teams with less than 10 points do not obtain any points. Finally, the team with the highest points throughout the whole season is acknowledged the IPTL champion. The winning award was an IPTL challenge Trophy along with a prize if US $ 1,000,000.

Fans’ excitement  at the IPTL games

As world greats Roger Federer and Pete Sampras created headlines and buzz among the tennis fans, IPTL took off successfully. The dreams of Indian fans to see personalities like Roger Federer, Sampras, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, came true when they saw them play in front of them.

The feeling was none less than being abroad to watch a tennis tournament. Facebook pages were abuzz with fans clicking pictures with their favourite tennis legends and boasting of sharing a click with them. It left us wondering whether it’s the love for the game or the international names! But we are happy that a large crowd gathered and improved the spectator quality.

Not only the tennis legends but the Bollywood stars too couldn’t resist playing a knock or two with these personalities. Aamir Khan, Deepika Padukone and Akshay Kumar played an exhibition game in New Delhi and pulled in crowds in big numbers. While Aamir Khan and Federer were on one side, Sania Mirza with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic brought fun to the game.

As much as the fans enjoyed this event, the tennis personalities too had a great time. ITPL proved to be a fun, easy, interesting format for players who toil hard on the ATP world tour. The players enjoyed it so much that players like Serene Williams would want to do it again. For Ana Ivanovic it was the first time she played team tennis. According to her, it was interesting to play team tennis.

The passion of the players as well as among the teammates was spectacular. As Nick Kyrgios looked excited when his teammate hit a winner, it was evident that teammates shared a good bonding. Gael Monfils even danced!

Sharapova always had a smiling face with teammates Manila Mavericks. The way the players seemed so relaxed about a tournament was a delight for all.

With all the buzz of IPTL in India, particularly New Delhi, we are left wondering what led to the great ticket rush – the glamour of the event or the love for tennis. Will the interest of these fans decline next time if there are no big names at the play?

IPTL expansion plan

The founder of IPTL, Mahesh Bhupathi shrugged off critics and announced that IPTL was a great hit and that it will grow with time. He also said that the New International Premier Tennis League will feature two more cities which will take the number to six by next year. He indicated that four cities were already eager to sign but for a better advancement, slow progression would be better. So, they will add only two cities at the moment for next year. The players will be announced in February. The season next year will be similar to NBA as per Bhupathi. He wants it to be well-planned and look at the tournament as a longer race rather than a short stint. However, he agreed that the Grand Slams are still the main support and pride of tennis.