THE SECOND EDITION of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) is around the corner. After a successful debut in 2014, the IPTL is set to again enthrall tennis fanatics in the Asian sub-continent. India’s tennis legend and mastermind of IPTL, Mahesh Bhupathi discusses, with TFG in Mumbai, various aspects of the coming edition and future of this innovative initiative.
The league started with four teams in 2014, this year there are five. Are you looking to add more teams for 2016? Any specific criteria?
May be in 2017, but not in 2016. Next year we have the Olympics, so the schedule is pretty tight for the players. We don’t want any expansion next year and will stick to five teams. As far as the criteria goes, the owners need to have a certain amount of interest in tennis, backed by a great stadium, and an international airport. But yes, we do have a few guidelines.
How successful has the IPTL been in grabbing the attention of kids in India?
I think it has created a lot of interest. Last year, many kids got very excited to see Novak Djokovic play Roger Federer in India. I know a lot of parents in India who told me that their kids pushed them hard to buy the tickets as soon as the ticket sales were announced. Watching their heroes play certainly was very motivating and inspiring for the kids. This year again they have Nadal playing Federer in Delhi. It creates a lot of interest and that’s how kids start playing the sport and eventually become professionals. It’s all a part of the tennis ecosystem.
Why aren’t Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni, or Sumit Nagal a part of the IPTL?
We only have one Indian team. You can’t expect a Filipino team to draft them. I love Saketh. He is a close friend of mine. This is not an Indian league, this is an Asian league. I think in context of Asian players, India has by far the biggest representation. But definitely, as these guys get better, the opportunities will come up. In this league, you have some of the very best players to have ever played the game. So, the likes of Yuki, Saketh, Sumit and company have to step it up to the next level for selection.
A few marquee names in Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Simona Halep are missing. Also what about the doubles experts, Bryan Brothers?
Yes, few of them are missing. And a few names will be announced in the next couple of days. You might see them added to some of the teams.
And what about Serena Williams. She has not been seen in action after the US Open 2015. Is she going to feature in this edition of the IPTL?
Yes, Serena has confirmed her participation and will represent the Philippine Mavericks.
Can you explain as to how the teams go about picking the players? Is there any protocol that needs to be followed?
At the end of the day, the owners pay the money, so they decided whom to pick and how many to pick. But the maximum limit is 10 players per team and minimum is six.
Are you going to tinker with the rules going ahead? For eg: In the first edition, we saw players making adjustments while playing a “Net First Service”, deuce-advantage point.
Absolutely nothing. We can’t change the rules. That’s our concept and it remains the same. We have just added a final to be played in Singapore. Everybody welcomed the format last year and have accepted it.
Can you explain as to how the league is looking to engage the fans?
The team owners are doing a lot for the fans. They are trying to create a new experience and working on a lot of new stuff going ahead.
What are your expectations for this year? How different is it going to be from the inaugural season?
We are not expecting anything different. We have added another team to the league. More matches, days, broadcasters and sponsors. So, we are looking forward to it.
How successful has the IPTL been in establishing a strong following and fan base in India?
It’s a process. We are just a year old. I am sure we are on the right track. Teams are setting up their fan clubs. The league is setting up its digital platforms. Give us a few years…
Are we also going to see the games moved away from Delhi to other cities of our country in the future?
That again is not my call. The owners have the prerogative on that and if they want to move it they are allowed to do so. It’s purely driven on how much revenue a particular city can generate.