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In focus

What a racket! Short-form tennis is a noisy affair, but can it be a smash hit?

A fast-paced, high-octane version of tennis is the latest reimagining of how new fans interact with sports, reports Jamie Braidwood from a packed London arena - but it seems some of the players don’t even know the rules

Monday 18 December 2023 14:07 GMT
Britain’s Jack Draper celebrates with the UTS Grand Final title - tennis ‘reimagined’
Britain’s Jack Draper celebrates with the UTS Grand Final title - tennis ‘reimagined’ (Getty)

The ExCel conference centre in east London sits an hour from the plush green lawns and storied tradition of Wimbledon, but in tennis terms it may as well lie a million miles away on this pre-Christmas Saturday afternoon. “Everybody get on their feet and make some nooooiiise,” yells the ageing DJ in bucket hat and denim jacket as he pumps his fist and turns to the crowd, music blaring and lights flashing. “The only thing you will never, ever hear today is ‘please be quiet’. We want to hear you!” And so, as pounding dance anthems fill the room, the show begins: this is UTS and, according to its tagline, it’s “tennis like never before”.

Some of the best players in the world have gathered in London for the UTS (Ultimate Tennis Showdown) Grand Final, and not all of them are familiar with the rules. Jack Draper, a big-serving, confident 21-year-old Brit who is playing UTS for the first time, was not aware of some of the intricacies of the format until he arrived at the venue. And, if you’re only used to watching tennis every July when Wimbledon rolls around, there is a lot to catch up on. According to the event organisers, this is tennis “reimagined” – the match play “fast, furious, immersive and interactive”.

It’s also shorter, which comes to UTS’s biggest selling point. Matches are played over four eight-minute quarters and last around 50 minutes in total, a far cry from the three- or even four-hour contests that are now regular events in men’s tennis at the grand slams. Play is also quickened at every opportunity, with no second serves and a maximum of 15 seconds before it must resume. There are no towel breaks between points, no endless ball bouncing before serves to break up momentum, no lengthy exchanges of deuce games. Competitors also have ‘bonus cards’ in which a single point can be worth three if deployed successfully. It’s still tennis, but the emphasis on shorter, faster periods of action renders it a completely different sport at times.

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