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Push for Indian tennis is coming in small packages, leagues

Sumit Nagal, India’s top ranked male player, was acquired for Rs 18.5 lakh at a Tennis Premier League auction in October while some of the other high bids went to international players, like Ernest Gulbis, Dennis Novak and Maria Timofeeva.

A couple of tennis leagues are trying to address the sport’s losing connection with audiences, motivate its players and bridge pay shortcomings, which has for long plagued Indian tennis players.

The on-going Pro Tennis League (PTL, December 7-10) in Delhi, will be followed by the Tennis Premier League (TPL, December 12-17) in Pune, both in their fifth seasons. The leagues’ intentions are to showcase Indian players and get audiences in through a T20—to use a cricketing analogy—version of the sport.

We started the league after we had seen other leagues with international stars, and to popularise the game,” says Aditya Khanna, co-founder of the PTL. “Those were not financially viable, and we felt there was a gap with no league for Indian players. We wanted to close that gap, for Indian pros, juniors and seniors together in a shorter format.”

The PTL’s format of eight teams divided into two groups allows for 7-8 matches to be finished in three-odd hours. There are about 20-30 points in each match and whichever team has more points wins (not matches) triumphs, making every point crucial. The eight-team TPL also has a point-based play with a match between two teams worth 80 points. Each match has four games, men’s and women’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles—each worth 20 points.

"The idea was to promote tennis and Indian tennis players,” concurs Kunal Thakkur, co-founder of the TPL. “Marketing people say fans are not interested in tennis unless there is a (Roger) Federer or a (Rafael) Nadal. We wanted to create a league that could get revenue for players and build them into brands.”

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