Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras express doubts over new International Premier Tennis League

 

Concerns that the much-trumpeted International Premier Tennis League might not be all it seems emerged in London on Monday when two of its main attractions said they knew little about the project. Andre Agassi said he would not be able to play on the dates he had been allotted, which he said conflicted with those he had given to organisers, while Pete Sampras said he was “not sure” where and when he would be playing.

The Americans, who were playing an exhibition match against each other at Earls Court on Monday night as part of World Tennis Day, are on an initial roster of 28 players released by IPTL organisers. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Serena Williams head the list of current players involved in the project, which is the brainchild of the Indian doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi.

The players have been split into four teams, based in Singapore, Mumbai, Bangkok and Dubai, which are scheduled to play each other on a home and away basis between 28 November and 14 December. The players were recruited by their teams at an “auction” in Dubai on Sunday.

Agassi said he had learned –“to my very big surprise” –that he had been listed to play for the Singapore team, whose home matches are set for 28, 29 and 30 November. “I agreed to December dates and agreed to be gone no more than five days including travel, and somehow now it’s over Thanksgiving [27 November],” Agassi said. “It’s achievable for me to commit for three matches, but once you start talking about six or seven days, it’s too much of a price to pay, missing out on my family, missing out on many business things I’m responsible for.

“I don’t have all the facts and if that’s 100 per cent accurate, we’re connecting with the organisers to make sure nobody is left in the lurch.”

Sampras, who has been listed to play for the Mumbai franchise, said: “I feel like I have committed to three matches. I’m not sure when or where yet, I believe in a couple of cities, maybe the Dubai, India part. But I think they’re still working on the schedule.”

The IPTL has so far declined to reveal even the identities of the team owners, who between them are said to have committed to paying a total of nearly $24m (£14.3m) at an average of more than £500,000 to each player. Agassi said he did not know the identity of the owner of his Singapore team.

Leading players have complained for years about the shortness of the off-season. Now it has been lengthened to seven weeks for men and 10 weeks for women, there have inevitably been murmurings about the fact that some are using the extra time to play in lucrative exhibition matches.

“It’s different now, the season ends early November,” Agassi said when asked if he would have committed to the IPTL during his playing days. “I didn’t have that luxury because I took that time away to prepare for Australia. So the question becomes what are you going to prioritise in your life [and are there] arguments for taking a high-paid opportunity and maximising this time in your life?

“There would be another argument to be made for others who probably should say no to that and use that time to prepare for what it is they have an opportunity to accomplish. It’s a rare window of time. From an economic standpoint it was hard to tempt me when  I played.”

Sampras said the off-season had been so short in his day that he had “barely enough time” to prepare for the Australian Open. “The schedule’s a little shorter these days, [it] gives the guys an opportunity to play a few exhibitions, make a few extra bucks,” he said.

He added with a smile: “We all know they need it, so if someone’s dumb enough to pay them, they’d be dumb not to take it.”

Other exhibition matches were being played in Hong Kong and New York (Murray and Djokovic were due to meet in Madison Square Garden) as part of World Tennis Day, which is designed to encourage more people to play the sport. The day also featured the latest enshrinements into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Among those to be  honoured was Nick Bollettieri, one of Agassi’s former coaches and a columnist for The  Independent.

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