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Tennis: IPTL ‘goes to places where I believe tennis should be’ – Agassi

Andre Agassi believes the IPTL is appealing for both players and fans, but is a “supplement” and not a threat to the regular tour season. Photo: AFP.

Andre Agassi says the IPTL is appealing for players and fans, but is only a “supplement” to the regular season. Photo: AFP.

December 3, 2014: Andre Agassi and Serena Williams have spoken out in support of the new International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), saying the Asia-based team event brings top stars to emerging tennis nations and is “good for the future of the sport”.

 

The IPTL features star-studded franchises representing the Philippines, Singapore, India and UAE competing against each other in three-day stops in Manila, Singapore, Delhi and Dubai.

 

Agassi, 44, joined the DBS Singapore Slammers for the second leg in Singapore, where the eight-time Grand Slam champion enjoyed a rapturous reception.

 

“For me, there are a lot of upsides in doing this, watching the sport go places where I believe there should be tennis; bringing it to these communities and cities in a format that I believe is motivational to the next generation,” said Agassi, whose teammates include fellow Grand Slam winners Williams, Lleyton Hewitt and Patrick Rafter, as well as current World No. 7 Tomas Berdych.

 

“It’s great for fans and places who don’t get to see tennis up close. I think this will grow because next year they’ll know what to expect and their enthusiasm will grow.”

 

Agassi also praised the format of team matches that feature men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, mixed doubles and past champions’ singles. Round-robin matches are decided by the total number of games won in five no-advantage sets contested in the different formats.

 

Although organisers are keen to promote the format changes, the team spirit shown by male and female stars, singles and doubles specialists, and teenagers and past champions has arguably been the main appeal.

 

“It’s great for the players, acting like a team out there. You want it bad, but you’re also relaxed and trying to keep your team relaxed. It’s a fun environment for us. You get to see so many match-ups and the games played in different ways,” said Agassi, who is competing as a past champion.

 

“I think it’s a great release for the players and a great opportunity for the players to communicate their personality a little bit more. It’s also good for the future of the sport.”

 

Created by Indian doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi, the IPTL was inspired by the game-changing Indian Premier League (IPL), which revolutionised the popularity of cricket across the world, with many of the world’s most famous players competing in the short, fast-paced Twenty20 format.

 

Agassi is among a host of multiple major winners playing selected legs, along with the likes of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who will play the final leg in Dubai, Roger Federer and Pete Sampras (both Delhi), and Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova (both Manila). Players competing in all four legs include Berdych, Marin Cilic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and women’s World No. 5 Ana Ivanovic.

 

Agassi, though, was keen to put the IPTL in its place, saying it was suitable if held after the end of the regular ATP and WTA World Tours, and that the traditional format of tennis wasn’t under threat.

 

“Can you ever say that the pillars of the sport will morph into this? That’s a stretch and nor do I think it necessarily should. We’re a sport of great tradition, but in my opinion, this needs to be a supplement to it,” Agassi said.

 

“I think there are too many wins not to find a place in the year for those who choose to do it. I don’t think this is about a longer season for tennis because you don’t have to do it, but the players are realising it’s a heck of a lot of fun. The feedback I got from the players is that it’s a lot of fun and they love doing it. They were really enthusiastic about it and I understand why.”

 

Serena Williams celebrates with teammates including Lleyton Hewitt and Tomas Berdych after helping the DBS Singapore Slammers to their first win in the IPTL, at home to the Micromax Indian Aces on Tuesday night.

Serena Williams celebrates with teammates including Lleyton Hewitt and Tomas Berdych after helping the DBS Singapore Slammers to their first win in the IPTL, at home to the Micromax Indian Aces on Tuesday night.

Williams, who was back in Singapore after winning the WTA Finals in October, also agreed that the players were enjoying a team event not based around nationalities.

 

“I came into this thinking it was going to be like fun and a blast, and I’m having a fun time, having a blast,” said Williams, who played the final day in Manila and is competing on all three days in Singapore. “I think it’s going to grow naturally because a lot of players are supporting it and a lot of players are involved in it. I think it’s definitely going to grow.”

 

The World No. 1 also said the competition’s timing – and the option of playing one or more cities – made it an appealing option for players as part of their training for the upcoming season.

 

“I didn’t think it was going to be a good preparation like it is, but it turns out to be an amazing preparation. It’s really perfect. After I played in Manila, I was like, ‘This is a great way to prepare for the season’,” Williams said.

 

“I would definitely see myself playing this every year. It’s a great event to be involved in. It’s fun and like I said, it’s a great opportunity to get ready for the pre-season, so I think a lot of players enjoy that. I know I do.”

 

Quotes: DBS Singapore Slammers (www.singaporeslammers.com); Editing by SportAsia

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