Mahesh Bhupathi unveils plan for IPL-style tennis league
Branded by world number one Novak Djokovic as potentially "revolutionary", Mahesh Bhupathi's vision is for an elite competition that would feature the world's best players participating for six, as of yet unspecified, franchises dotted throughout Asia.
India's 12-time Grand Slam doubles champion Mahesh Bhupathi lifted the lid on his plans for an International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), that is scheduled to stage its inaugural season at the end of 2014 in Paris, on Friday.
Branded by world number one Novak Djokovic as potentially "revolutionary", Bhupathi's vision is for an elite competition that would feature the world's best players participating for six, as of yet unspecified, franchises dotted throughout Asia.
Having seen the success of cricket's Indian Premier League, an annual tournament headlined by several of the sport's stars since 2008, the IPTL's foundations bear a similar resemblance to that of its cricketing counterpart.
"Bringing the concept of entertainment to tennis is what I think we're doing here," said Bhupathi at a presentation in the French capital.
"Six years ago the IPL was launched (in India) and it has become a rousing success. I think the fans accepted it amazingly, so did sponsors and TV because it was kind of made-for-TV content," he continued before explaining the IPTL's proposed format.
Bhupathi revealed that fixtures would consist of five one-set matches lasting a duration of three hours in total, with teams comprised of between six and 10 players and total salaries for each franchise costing between US$4million and $10million.
In addition to men's and women's singles, men's doubles and a mixed doubles, a legends singles -- featuring the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Pat Rafter -- would also be a part of each tie, with Bhupathi adding that the plans had been well received by television networks.
An auction is scheduled just prior to the Australian Open next January in Melbourne where players -- who will be divided into five price categories based on their ranking, popularity or potential -- will go to the highest bidder, with the league then set to take place from late November through the first few weeks of December.
American Justin Gimelstob, a former journeyman turned broadcaster and a partner of the nascent league, underlined the necessity for the world's top stars to take part if the venture is to succeed.
"What Billie Jean King and World Team Tennis have done back in the heyday...they had the top players playing and that's what drives it. We understand that this is a talent-driven sport, it's going to be a talent-driven league. There's going to need to be major name recognition."
That doesn't appear to be a problem for the retiring Bhupathi, whose several years in the game have allowed him to develop relationships and gain face-to-face access to the world's leading lights.
"It's revolutionary... I really think it's going to help the popularity of our sport even more," was the verdict of Djokovic, while seven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal also voiced his support.
"I think it's a great idea. The best players will be playing there and I'm excited to play in this new Asian league," said Nadal, with Andy Murray reportedly on board as well.
On the women's side, two-time defending Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka gave her backing, saying: "I think it's amazing. It's definitely a little bit different to what we do everyday. I'm really excited to be participating in it."
Top-ranked Serena Williams, who has committed along with Maria Sharapova, also expressed her excitement at joining a cast of past and present stars.
"I've never played with these guys so it's like a dream come true," said Williams on the prospect of playing with some of the sport's legends.