In Patrick Mouratoglou's UTS, mainstream tennis stares at a crossroad anew



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In Patrick Mouratoglou's UTS, mainstream tennis stares at a crossroad anew

Inspiration can come from different places. It can be transferred from one sport to another as well. Patrick Mouratoglou’s new tournament idea – the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) – is no different with its inspiration coming from quite a few areas, including an unlikely sport in cricket and its truncated twenty-20 (T20) format.

However, much like the T20 version of cricket drew – and continues to draw – criticism towards it by the game’s purists, UTS, too, is positioned under the glare of tennis’ core fanbase’s ire with its out-of-the-box format and rules, and behavioural do’s and don’ts.

Tricky as the rules are at a glance, taking a detailed look at the event’s playing format and other stipulations make it trickier to gauge. Each match will be played in four quarters, with each quarter consisting of 10 minutes.

There will also be a 15-second shot clock and a two-minute changeover at the end of each quarter. Each quarter will also feature a 20-second coaching time-out for each player, to be used at the coach’s discretion. The tournament also has UTS cards that feature into the mix as reimagined tactical variations.

Players will also be allowed to display their emotions –reiterating a key-note behind the event’s conception of wanting players to vent themselves openly – although there are certain checks put in place to prevent any such emotional outbursts from escalating.

The theoretical fine points of the matches’ hint at a time-duration of about an hour, with the period getting extended because of the tied score-line resulting in the fifth quarter to be played as “sudden death”.

What does Patrick Mouratoglou's UTS have in story for tennis?

These complicated nuances, however, do not obscure the underlying intention of adding pace to the game as it is offered to and consumed by its audiences.

These scoring points also reiterate the Frenchman’s keenness to integrate contemporary tennis with what once was back in the 1970s and 1980s alongside addressing the polemically-proclaimed average age of fans that is said to be 61 years.

From this perspective, despite these provocative changes, Mouratoglou, in his media conference with journalists on the event, said UTS is not in competition with the traditional way the sport is played. Adding he was not “not wanting to change tennis”, the 51-year-old emphasised that he was looking to “improve and increase the fan-base of tennis”, before clarifying “there is space” for both, the traditional, and the innovations that are on offer.

And, since for this new idea to gain ground – and acceptance – it has to be a success, Mouratoglou’s first look-out is to ensure that UTS is a success. At the same time, Mouratoglou acknowledged the future remained unknown not only in terms of UTS but also concerning how the tour would evolve in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Subsequently, when asked how he would evaluate success for UTS after its first edition, Mouratoglou said he would count it as a success if more people decided to join the event’s subscription platform. “I guess the number of subscribers is a good indication to see if they like it,” he said.

“Are they prepared to pay to watch it or not? I like that you have to pay for it. You’re facing the reality of it when you have to pay for the product. We can also look at how much watch it on TV or not but I think the real deal is this”.

If UTS does live up to its touted promise, it will bode well for the event’s continuity and its stated objectives. On the flip side, the tournament attracting newer – and younger – fans towards tennis as a revolutionised entity looks like it will be inevitably pushed farther into an impasse with tennis’ conventionalities.

Were that to happen, would tennis’ “core” followers – and its administrators – be welcoming to cede space to UTS, especially after crossing the myriad hurdles to the tour that have come in 2020? Alternatively, despite Patrick Mouratoglou’s firmness in being open to adapt UTS in the time to come, still, stand its test if traditions still hold sway over modernity? One way or another – tennis’ history will be revisited. Either by way of it repeating itself or by adding a fresh chapter to its already-copious pages.