Tennis as you’ve never seen it: Murray, Ivanovic, Sharapova and Hewitt kick off IPTL

Marianne Bevis examins the innovative tennis on show in the debut playing of the International Premier Tennis League

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

Tennis fever is taking over corners of the globe that have rarely had the good fortune to see stars such as Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Serena Williams up close and personal.

But these are just some of the high-profiles names who are throwing their weight behind the user-friendly, fast-paced and innovative tennis on show in the debut playing of the International Premier Tennis League.

Four three-day events will take these unique matches to Singapore, Dubai, Delhi and, kicking it all off today, the Philippines. Two of the first stars to arrive in Manila to play for the home squad were Murray and Sharapova, followed by the likes of Ana Ivanovic, Gael Monfils, Lleyton Hewitt and Tomas Berdych. Stir in a few stars from the past like Fabrice Santoro, Patrick Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic, and the buzz on Twitter has gone into overdrive.

The format is not just fan-friendly but very player-friendly, too, keeping things short and sweet: Hence the involvement of players like Federer and Novak Djokovic for their nominated team’s home events in India and the UAE respectively.

The two top-ranked men in the world have played more matches than any other on the tour this year, and were in action right up to wire at the World Tour Finals in London—Federer even going on to play three matches on consecutive days in the Davis Cup final just last weekend. A relief to both, then, that their teams do not host the tournament until next week.

So what about the format and scoring? Well tradition has gone out the window, with each player involved in one of the five sets that makes up each match.

• Men’s singles
• Women’s singles
• Men’s doubles
• Mixed doubles
• Past champion singles

Each set is played first to six games, with a five-minute ‘shoot-out’ at 5-5: the player with the most points in the time limit wins the set. There is no ad scoring, either, and then there is the shot-clock—a particularly interesting inclusion in the context of debates on the pro tours about how to speed up play.

Here the clock will be rigorously applied by the umpire, and will audibly count down the seconds as a player nears the 20-second limit. There are just 45 seconds allowed for the change of ends, 60 seconds for coaching time-outs—one permitted each set—and three minutes between sets. Any time violation results in a lost point.

There is also room for some on-the-hoof strategy with the ‘Power Point’, which can be called by the receiving player once in each set, with the winner of the rally scoring two points instead of one.

With every game adding a point to the cumulative total of a team in each match, every player will be keen to win as many games as possible, even if losing the set. And should the teams be level on points after the five sets, they will play a seven-minute ‘super shoot-out’ to determine the winner.

On the evidence of the opening two matches in Manila, both crowds and players are already fully into the contest and the entertainment. It’s been fast and furious, loud and cheerful.

The Indian Aces got off to a rousing start to win their opening match against Singapore, 26 games to 16, earning them four points to Singapore’s one. By the time the four teams hit Dubai for the final leg of the tournament, one can begin to imagine how raucous and entertaining it will become as players go all out to earn those last vital points that may clinch to top spot.

Manila Mavericks
Manila, 28-30 November

Coach/player: Treat Huey

• Andy Murray
• Maria Sharapova
• Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
• Carlos Moya
• Daniel Nestor
• Kirsten Flipkens

DBS Singapore Slammers
Singapore, 2-4 December

Coach: Josh Eagle

• Andre Agassi
• Serena Williams
• Tomas Berdych
• Lleyton Hewitt
• Patrick Rafter
• Daniela Hantuchova
• Bruno Soares
• Nick Kyrgios

Micromax Indian Aces
Delhi, 6-8 December

Coach/player: Fabrice Santoro

• Roger Federer
• Pete Sampras
• Ana Ivanovic
• Gael Monfils
• Rohan Bopanna
• Sania Mirza

UAE Royals
Dubai, 11-13 December

Coach: John Laffnie de Jager

• Novak Djokovic
• Caroline Wozniacki
• Goran Ivanisevic
• Marin Cilic
• Nenad Zimonjic
• Kristina Mladenovic
• Malek Jaziri

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