If the wish list of the All India Tennis Association (Aita) is fulfilled, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras will be playing in India in December.
A few days ago, Aita announced the Indian Tennis League (ITL), which has been inspired by cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) and the World Team Tennis (WTT), held every summer in the US. Initial expectations include attracting some of the biggest, recently retired names in world tennis to this event.
While Aita is yet to formalize the structure of the event or any other modalities, such as the revenue stream, venue and dates, it expects December to be the best time to get international players. There are few tournaments in Europe and the US at that time owing to the cold weather and holidays.
Aita executive vice-president and secretary general Anil Khanna said in a statement: “We see a great opportunity in the new-found love for sports and entertainment and would like to capitalize on this trend to further the development of tennis in India.”
The foreign recruits will probably be players who have retired recently and are not on the regular circuit, such as Sampras, Agassi, Graf and Lindsay Davenport, says Bharat Oza, Aita joint secretary. “Some current players who are also free at that time may be roped in. We will also have our Indian star players like Somdev (Devvarman) and Leander (Paes).”
Team spirit: Somdev Devvarman could be one of the ITL players. Reuters
The league will initially have five city-based franchises, with the number increasing gradually to eight in a few years. Each franchise will have six-eight players; each tie comprising five matches—men’s singles, doubles, women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Matches will be played on a home and away basis over two weeks; one set in each match as opposed to three-five in competitive tennis. The top two teams from the league will play for the championship.
Each franchise will have an “international star and an Indian icon”, says Ivan Brixi, president of Golazo Asia, the sports marketing and management company that’s co-organizing the ITL. Apart from this, there would be a junior league, with players belonging to the respective franchises but playing in a separate league.
The players selected will not be auctioned but “sold” to teams based on a valuation system that’s yet to be formalized. Oza says Aita is not doing this to raise money. “We are currently not getting any money into tennis and Indian players are not benefiting. This (the ITL) will help our junior players rub shoulders with established stars. In the process, the franchise can also give them some support. The idea is to popularize the sport, which seems to work when combined with entertainment, as the IPL has shown,” says Oza, who is also the president of the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA). He is quick to add that the recent controversies surrounding IPL are a result of bad management, not a bad concept.
The ITL will be based on similar leagues in Europe and South America, says Brixi. “The key idea is to assist development of the sport in a growing and exciting market,” he says. He adds that there have already been preliminary discussions with some former Grand Slam champions and television broadcasters in India.
The WTT in the US, a more high-profile team event, was co-founded by Billie Jean King, a multiple Grand Slam winner, in 1974 as a “co-ed professional league”. It’s divided into Western and Eastern Conferences, with five teams in each. Paes plays for the Washington Kastles, with Serena and Venus Williams; world No. 7 Andy Roddick and India’s Davis Cup player Prakash Amritraj play for Philadelphia Freedoms; No. 11 and US Open champion Kim Clijsters represents the New York Sportimes and No. 14 Maria Sharapova turns out for Newport Beach Breakers.