The International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) will return next year despite losing Roger Federer and Serena Williams over money problems and dropping from five tournaments to three, its founder said.
Mahesh Bhupathi, who launched the IPTL in 2014, said he was sure “new money” was on its way for the innovative tournament, without specifying where it would come from.
“We’ve had some challenges this year but we stayed afloat, which was the most important thing. So whatever it is, we will bounce back,” he said in an interview in Singapore.
The IPTL, which features a shortened scoring system, shot-clock, cheerleaders, DJs and franchise-based teams is billed as a refreshing update to the traditional tennis format.
But this year’s event was missing most of the game’s top players, and last week the IPTL said superstars Federer and Williams were skipping the Indian leg.
Bhupathi initially blamed their absence on chaos caused by India’s withdrawal of Rs500 and Rs1,000 banknotes from circulation, but later said they were cut to save costs.
“The revenue and the cost wasn’t matching so we didn’t want to go into a big (financial) hole just for the sake of doing it,” said Bhupathi.
“So we thought we would get by with these (other) players and look at the bigger show next year.” He added both had been “very, very keen to play”.
An initial IPTL schedule for 2016 featured five venues but it was later trimmed to three: Tokyo, Singapore and Hyderabad, with Dubai and Manila dropping out.
News website Inquirer.net said the Philippine Mavericks team owners pulled out because the IPTL was late releasing a tournament schedule and dates for ticket sales.
But Bhupathi said the IPTL was scaled down not because of financial or logistical problems but after comments from players, who said the tournament was too long.
“Last year we had five cities and the feedback in general from players was it was possibly too long,” he said.
“One of the things we’re dabbling with is doing three cities only every year, with probably a few more days in each city and making it rotational.”
He added that moving the Indian leg from New Delhi to Hyderabad also hit difficulties when the proposed venue wasn’t ready in time.
Despite the problems, Bhupathi remains adamant there is still an audience for the IPTL and is eyeing expansion within southeast Asia over the next five years.
He said his vision was to turn the IPTL into a brand “like Formula One”, which he said was less reliant on individual stars.
“F1 has built their brand and concept. They take that show to new cities and old cities, so that’s what we’re looking to do,” he said.
“Regardless of who’s racing, the experience of being there with the music, entertainment and fashion becomes an event that you want to be part of.”
Bhupathi said that the IPTL team owners would sit down after the current season, which concluded in Hyderabad last Sunday (11), and try to address their problems.
“The new money will come in, we just have to figure out where it is coming from,” he said.
Meanwhile, Indian Aces’ hopes of regaining the IPTL crown went up in smoke after failing to win a single match as defending champions Singapore Slammers retained the title with a 30-14 win in the final in Hyderabad.
Former world number one Carlos Moya was in spectacular touch – the retired Spaniard beating Mark Philippoussis 6-4 to hand the advantage to his side.
Kirsten Flipken had turned around previous matches with her solid game but could not get the job done with Sania Mirza, losing the women’s singles 6-3 to Kiki Bertens.
Mirza came on as a substitute for Flipken in the middle of the match. Mirza and Rohan Bopanna then were upset in the mixed doubles set, losing 6-1 to Marcelo Melo and Bertens.
Nick Kyrgios joined Melo to take on Feliciano Lopez and Ivan Dodig. The Slammers’ duo piled on the misery of home team with a clinical 6-2 win.
With that result, the Sinapore franchise had sealed their second IPTL title, rendering the final men’s singles set meaningless.
Marcos Baghdatis completed the victory with a 6-4 win over Lopez.