Top tennis players eager to sign up for Asian league


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Players have complained about the length of the season for as long as most people in the sport can remember, but for the foreseeable future most of those who have protested the loudest are likely to fall quiet.

When the regular men’s campaign ends at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London in mid-November there will be a gap of just seven weeks before the 2015 campaign begins, but most of the game’s leading players will today give their backing to a new venture which will fill 23 of the off-season’s 49 days.

The International Tennis Premier League, which is loosely modelled on cricket’s Indian Premier League, will take a step nearer to fruition in Dubai this afternoon when a “player auction” takes place in the suitably opulent surroundings of The Oberoi, a luxury hotel.

Although the final details have yet to be confirmed, five franchises based in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are expected to go into the auction armed with budgets of at least $4 million (about £2.4m) each to pay players’ salaries for the inaugural competition, to be held between 28 November and 20 December.

The player list includes Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki. A number of recently retired “legends” have also committed to the project, including Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic and Martina Hingis. Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Li Na are the only significant absentees.

Each match between the city franchises is expected to comprise one set (with a tie-break at 5-5) of men’s singles, one of women’s singles, one of men’s doubles, one of mixed doubles and one of legends’ singles. Each city will play eight matches, four at home and four away. The contests, which will be geared towards TV audiences, are expected to last a total of three hours each.

The rewards for the players are potentially huge – there has been speculation that Nadal could earn $1m a night – though their pay will depend on the extent of their commitment. Murray, for example, is not expected to play in many matches because he devotes most of December to his winter training camp in Florida.

Djokovic described the competition, which is the brainchild of the Indian doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi, as “a fantastic concept – if it happens”. The world No 2 added: “It’s going to promote tennis in the Asian part of the world. That is a huge market. It’s a fun concept. It lets the players enjoy themselves on court and off court together.

“It’s something that we don’t get to see that much, the team concept. It’s not that easy to realise, because it’s a huge programme and project. Hopefully, I’m going to try to be part of it.”

Federer said he wanted to see the competition get off the ground first before considering his own involvement, but added: “I hope it’s going to be successful, because there is definitely potential in the Asian market. So many people live here. A lot of tennis enthusiasts come from this part of the world.”