Behind closed doors, Mouratoglou experiments with new type of tennis


Biot (France) (AFP)

Patrick Mouratoglou has a vision for tennis and the coronavirus pandemic has given him a chance for a test run on Saturday in an event which does away with a code of conduct, a crowd, the media, traditions, authority and even some rules.

"June 13th will be remembered as the day that revolutionised tennis, forever," declares the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) website.

Behind the brashness lies some concern.

"We know that some will tear us apart," one of Mouratoglou's entourage said on the eve of the event.

Frenchman Mouratoglou who is coach of one of the greatest players, Serena Williams and mentor to two potential greats, Coco Gauff and Stefanos Tsitsipas, says he wants to attract a younger audience to tennis through their screens.

The UTS will take place behind closed doors at Mouratoglou's academy on the French Riviera.

It has a window because professional tennis has been paralysed since mid-March due to COVID-19 with Roland Garros postponed and Wimbledon cancelled.

This weekend's opening tournament, branded UTS1 has attracted four of the men's top 10 and, in keeping with the pop-culture approach, they have received all nicknames: Dominic Thiem is 'The Dominator', Stefanos Tsitsipas 'The Greek God', Matteo Berrettini 'The Hammer' and David Goffin is 'The Wall'.

- 'Private exhibitions' -

In part because of hygiene rules, the media presence will be tightly controlled, there will be no press conferences and no crowd. Fans can only watch via the UTS website for a fee of 10-12 euros ($11-$13), depending on where in the world they are.

The format has been designed to combine two modern trends: e-sport and binge viewing.

Players will be encouraged to show their emotions. Coaching will be part of the show. Players will receive "UTS cards" from a deck which they can use for a brief advantage. The cards include scoring triple for a point or requiring your opponent to win a point in three shots or fewer.

The familiar scoring system is abandoned in favour of collecting the most points in a ten-minute quarter.

This format "removes the scoring and it's deliberate," according to Mouratoglou, who says the existing system "is a big problem" in attracting a young audience.

But he adds in established tournaments "of course you have to keep scoring as it is."

He says he is not competing with the existing tours but complementing it.

"I'm not saying we should change tennis, but bring in a second, more modern, league for a different clientele."

He hopes the UTS with its weekend events can become a parallel year-round circuit.

"If it's a success, everyone will agree to sit around the table and find solutions because this success will be the success of tennis in general," Mouratoglou said.

Initially, he is aiming for 50,000 subscriptions.

The ATP, which runs men's professional tennis, is supportive but wary, telling AFP players are free to take part in "private exhibitions" but warning them "to protect their health and safety"and "to comply with the guidelines of the anti-corruption programme."

The International Federation (ITF) said its "priority" is to continue its work with the ATP, the WTA and the Grand Slam tournaments "to follow the evolution of the worldwide impact of Covid-19 and prepare the restart of the professional tours in the best possible conditions."

While Mouratoglou is already planning UTS2 and UTS3, Richard 'The Virtuoso' Gasquet made clear how he sees the event.

"It's a great training. There's not a guy in the world who's going to tell you tomorrow we're doing five sets. So it's the perfect format to resume", the Frenchman told AFP