Tramlines

Why the International Premier Tennis League may actually be good for tennis

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The International Premier Tennis League is nothing if not controversial. It is already dividing tennis fans, just as it has already polarised players and experts.

For Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams and a host of other top players past and present, it is a hugely lucrative and exciting opportunity; for Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and many purists and pundits, it is an uninteresting and unnecessary money-spinner.

As it is, four teams – based in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur – will report to the Oberoi Hotel armed with minimum budgets of £2.4 million each ready to take on a contrived format borrowed from the Indian Premier League cricket.

It is easy to see why certain players are particularly keen. Reports suggest that Rafael Nadal, for example, is being offered $1 million (£600,000) per night, to play maybe three of the eight matches.

As part of the rules implemented in discussions, 'marquee' players are not required to play any set number of matches, being afforded freedom to pick and choose what they do.

It is, undoubtedly, fairly ridiculous. It is, likely, going to be lamented as a needless use of energy and time and used to highlight hypocrisy in the stars who constantly complain about their tiresome schedules.

Nadal, ironically given his eagerness to jump at this financially attractive opportunity, has been the most vocal critic of the burdensome calendar on the ATP Tour .

"Things need to change," he said in 2009. "I believe the bad thing about the calendar is how it is made and obligates you to play tournaments all year." But this Asian roadshow that takes in most of December? No problem, clearly.

However, for all its obvious flaws, the IPTL could be genius. Any innovative and unique event which spices up the monotonous ATP calendar is a good thing, one could argue.

[Murray signs for Bangkok in IPTL]

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It has a Davis Cup structure to it, which is an instant crowd-puller, plenty of money at stake to ensure that top players retain a keen interest and a format that is designed to keep both the participants and the crowd involved at every turn.

Perhaps most importantly, the event has a clear purpose: to expand the popularity of tennis to the Asian market beyond its immediate bases of Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Mumbai.

While tennis is growing steadily in popularity in these regions, it is not yet as popular as it is in Europe and America. The IPTL could go a long way in bridging that gap and increasing tennis’s presence in these regions which would represent a real success.

Understandably, it could be argued that the IPTL would only further the strains on the players, giving them no time to relax, but the reality in the modern game is that players - for all their public agitation - choose to undertake intense training in the off season regardless.

Furthermore, the top players have long incensed tournament directors by not making themselves available for mainstream Tour events due to tiredness, only to fly across the world to appear at a lucrative exhibition next to an iceberg or on top of an Abu Dhabi skyscraper.

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The project also has a well-respected chief executive in Morgan Menahem, who manages Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and the idea behind the format is clear. "It’s made for TV, three to 3½ hours, so you know when it ends," Menahem said.

Each contest will consist of five separate sets, contested in men’s singles, women’s singles, men's doubles, mixed doubles, and legends’ singles with eight matches between four city-based teams, played home and away, running over three weeks from the end of November to late December.

As Murray reasoned: "If I can go somewhere for one week and set up a camp where it’s warm and there are good training conditions, if I’m playing against the best players in the world, that’s the only thing that is missing from Miami."

This may not be an event that is going to be popular worldwide and it is certainly not going to please everyone, but it certainly offers something for a market not taken in by the Grand Slams and fans in Asia a chance to sample a new and exciting showcase.

Anything with a greater purpose than an absurdly-profitable exhibition on a cruise ship is to be welcomed on a Tour that continues to frustrate fans and players alike at times.

As a radically different event to the standard annual fare in an area of the world where the popularity of tennis is burgeoning, the IPTL has undeniable potential.

Do you think the IPTL is positive for expanding the appeal of world tennis or is it just a money-grabbing venture for an elite group of stars?

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The current squads (team owners are still able to make 10 additions)

Singapore: Tomas Berdych, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Serena Williams, Bruno Soares, Patrick Rafter, Daniela Hantuchova, Nick Krygios

Bangkok: Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Victoria Azarenka, Daniel Nestor, Carlos Moya, Kirsten Flipkens

Mumbai: Rafael Nadal, Gael Monfils, Pete Sampras, Rohan Bopanna, Ana Ivanovic, Sania Mirza, Fabrice Santoro

Dubai: Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Goran Ivanisevic, Janko Tipsarevic, Nenad Zimonic, Malek Jaziri, Martina Hingis

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Dan Quarrell - on Twitter @Dan_Eurosport

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