Tennis fans have been blessed in the 21st century with three of the greatest stars in the men’s game in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all playing at the same time.
Meanwhile, the women’s game has been dominated by 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams over the past two decades.
However, all four are well into their 30s – Djokovic is the youngest at 33 years old – so it won’t be too long before we see these greats leave the court.
So, what happens next?
Well here lies the problem the sport is facing. Yes, there are players such as Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas who have come through but their profiles are not as high as the likes of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Williams.
Patrick Mouratoglou, who coaches Williams, has revealed the average age of a tennis fan is 61 and the sport is having trouble bringing in younger supporters.
He exclusively told talkSPORT.com: “Tennis is an amazing sport, it’s extremely addictive, and once you’re a fan, you’re a fan for life. But right now it’s failing to be attractive to the younger generation.
“I think the situation has been boring for the future of our sport for quite a long time.”
But Mouratoglou has an idea that will hopefully help attract that much-needed young fanbase – the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS), which starts on Saturday at his Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in between Nice and Cannes.
The UTS is the first global competitive live broadcast tennis showdown league without spectators and features ten players, including Thiem and last year’s ATP World Finals champion Tsitsipas.
1. Dominic Thiem (AUT) – ATP ranking: No.3
2. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) – ATP ranking: No.6
3. Matteo Berrettini (ITA) – ATP ranking: No.8
4. David Goffin (BEL) – ATP ranking: No.10
5. Benoit Paire (FRA) – ATP ranking: No.22
6. Richard Gasquet (FRA) – ATP ranking: No.50
7. Feliciano Lopez (ESP) – ATP ranking: No. 56
8. Lucas POUILLE (FRA) – ATP ranking: No.58
9. Alexei Popyrin (AUS) ATP ranking: No. 103
10. Dustin Brown (GER) ATP ranking: No. 239
The matches will be broadcast via a live streaming platform, with subscribers paying about £9 a month.
Matches are very much against the traditional tennis format as they will last for a maximum of one hour and will be divided into four quarters of ten minutes each, all played in the style of a tie-break, with players taking it in turns to serve two points in a row.
If scores are level at the end of a quarter a deciding point will be played. And if the score is 2-2 after four quarters the match will go to sudden death, with the serve changing after each point and the winner will be the first to get two points in a row. Meanwhile, there will be a time limit of just 15 seconds between points.
There will be more interaction between player and coach during matches as a 30-second coaching time out during each quarter is allowed, which they can communicate with the players via headsets. All communications between players and coaches will have to be in English and will also be heard by viewers. At changeovers the players will answer questions from interviewers.
Players will have the chance to use two ‘UTS cards’ in each quarter. The benefits of the cards include having three serves on one point, making your opponent take only one serve on a point and winning two points if you hit a clean winner.
Mouratoglou is hoping to see the personality of the players shine through at this tournament and beyond.
He added: “I think there’s a big gap between the quality of the game and the quality of the show. The idea is to create a platform where the show can take place. It can’t just be two players hitting balls.”
Mouratoglou referenced John McEnroe vs Bjorn Borg as the perfect rivalry due to their contrasting fire and ice mannerisms and suggested he wants to see more of that in tennis today.
He added: “I’m expecting two things. We need to have a good show and we need to have authenticity. I want players who are playing a role and I want diversity. I want people who are showmen, I want people who throw themselves around the court, and people who stay very calm.
“When you have diversity it’s better and you can connect with the players that you like, you know who they are, you can identify with them and then you can engage with the matches.
“This is one thing I regret about tennis. We have a lot of people who seem like they’re the same personality, but they’re not actually. But they behave the same in matches. Tennis has become standardised on court and off court.”
Failure to do this and tennis will be in ‘big trouble’, believes Mouratoglou.
He hopes that the success of the UTS will allow him to sit down with bodies such as the ATP going forward.
But even if these plans don’t work right away, Mouratoglou had the perfect analogy to explain why those in charge of the sport should not be resistant to change.
He said: “It’s funny because sometimes players are scared of making changes to their game because they’re afraid to lose something rather than trying to learn and get better. They just stick to what they know and they’re scared to make a change.
“The champions do the exact opposite. They’re always trying to improve and aren’t scared of change. Tennis should act like a champion and not be scared.
“When you change something in your game, sometimes it’s not going to work immediately and you start to make unforced errors and you have to go through that to get better. Tennis has to do that too so it can make the necessary evolution and appeal to the younger generation.”
Source: TalkSport.com Tennis