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 kicks off in France next Saturday, will have three top-10 players from the men’s ATP Tour in Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and David Goffin, joining seven others to compete in a round-robin format over five weeks.
Among the changes from the main tour, players will not face sanctions for emotional outbursts on court while fans will be able to question them during changeovers as they watch a livestream 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,” Mouratoglou told Reuters.
“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 number 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 in an interview.
“I’m excited to showcase that and to see if this is much more attractive to the younger generation.”
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 as lockdown rules are slowly eased.
Mouratoglou, who has been working with 23-time Grand Slam singles winner Williams since 2012, 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, who turns 50 on Monday.
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.
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,” said Mouratoglou.
The Frenchman added that they had studied what had made different formats in other sports successful while they had also taken inspiration from esports.
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 $11) 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 rest going to his opponent.
“The idea is to create the tennis of the future,” said Mouratoglou. “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.”