Sport Tennis Popyrin has free rein to express emotions as a new-look tennis league seeks younger audience
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Popyrin has free rein to express emotions as a new-look tennis league seeks younger audience

Alexei Popyrin is among the 10 entrants in the Ultimate Tennis Showdown. Photo: AAP
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Patrick Mouratoglou, the long-time coach of Serena Williams, feels tennis needs to reinvent itself and hopes his new league will make the sport more attractive and engaging for a younger generation.

The Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS), which starts in France on Saturday, will have three top-10 players from the men’s ATP Tour in Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and David Goffin, joining seven others, including Australia’s Alexei Popyrin, to compete in a round-robin format over five weekends.

Among the changes from the main tour, players will not face sanctions for emotional outbursts on court, and fans will be able to question them during changeovers as they watch a live-stream of matches.

“For many years I have been worried about the future of tennis. The average age of a tennis fan is 61, which is very old for a fan base,” said Mouratoglou.

“Tennis is failing to renew its fanbase. And that’s very worrying, because the future doesn’t look bright.”

Mouratoglou teamed up with Alex Popyrin, the father of world No.103 Alexei, to create the league that he says will showcase “new tennis”.

“I mean different tennis. Taking into consideration what was better back in the 1970s and the ’80s and also bringing some modernity,” he said.

UTS will be held at Mouratoglou’s academy in Nice, with 10 matches every weekend for a total of 50 matches and prize money on offer for each clash.

With the professional circuit halted at least until the end of July due to COVID-19, a number of exhibition events have recently been held.

Mouratoglou said the UTS will not be another exhibition event.

“It’s a real competition and it’s a new tour,” he said.

“The players are going to win points, they’re going to earn prize money. And at the end of the year there will be a champion.

“So they’re going to really compete with the same motivation as if they were playing a tournament.”

The games will be shorter and more dynamic and will “surprise” traditional fans, according to Mouratoglou.

The event will be held without fans in attendance.

They will, however, be able to listen to conversations between players and coaches as they watch from home.

Ice-cool Swede Bjorn Borg was a much-loved player from the past.

The Frenchman feels fans currently miss personalities who are easily identifiable, such as those from the past like John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Ilie Nastase and Yannick Noah.

“I want authenticity. I don’t want players to make a show. I want players to be able to be themselves on court and express all kinds of emotions,” Mouratoglou said.

The event will be live-streamed and fans will be able to watch it on utslive.tv, subscriptions for which will be less than 10 euros (about $16) a month.

UTS will distribute a major part of its advertising and broadcasting revenue to help lower-ranked players, who have been heavily affected by the sport’s shutdown.

Each match will have a prize pot with the winner bagging 70 per cent and the rest going to his opponent.

“The idea is to create the tennis of the future,” Mouratoglou said.

“I don’t plan to be a competitor to the ATP and the WTA. My plan is to bring new fans to the game.

“And if it works, and if the ATP and the WTA want to have the UTS under their umbrella, I’ll be happy to.”

-AAP