Boost local tennis
Mixed reactions greeted the efforts of the International Premier Tennis League to broaden the sport’s audience by instituting a more laid-back atmosphere of competition and making inroads into the vastly untapped Asian market.
For the official men’s and women’s tours, the IPTL is almost like an unneeded distraction. After all, the stars have already complained about how their seasons run too long and how the toll is breaking their bodies to the point of surrender. Yet these same stars commit to playing an exhibition tournament during what is supposed to be a rest period—and they seem to be enjoying it.
Despite the unfamiliar, because relaxed, rules intended to add excitement to and speed up the game for entertainment purposes, the level of competition hasn’t left tennis fans frustrated and wanting.
Time will tell whether the IPTL, designed to do what the Globetrotters did for basketball, will succeed in helping tennis infiltrate the international mainstream audience and turn it into a sport with a broader border of appeal than just its current heavy American and European following.
And the IPTL has plenty of time to discover its place in tennis history: It has plans to run the tournament for 25 to 30 years.
For the Philippines, however, it’s of utmost urgency to latch on to the gains of the IPTL’s holding its opening leg here and let these serve as momentum to strengthen the local tennis program.
(The government has always been cool to making sports programs a priority, and budgeting for sports is an afterthought for every administration. More often than not, national sports programs are commandeered by tycoons with money to spare, and it’s hardly love of sports that compels them to do so. The nitty-gritty is that support for sports programs helps immensely in their marketing and branding efforts, and the returns generated by their investment come in the form of their product being pushed to the forefront of public consciousness. Advertising, in brief.)
The IPTL has done for tennis what the sport’s national federation could never do: Provide a poster tournament for tennis that pushes it to a broader audience. Indeed, fans trooped to the Mall of Asia Arena to religiously follow IPTL matches and catch a glimpse of tennis’ rock stars. And as pricey as the tickets were for the three-day event, these were gobbled up the moment these hit the market.
It goes to prove one thing: There is an audience out there hungry for tennis stars and quality tennis action. It is a cue for the Philippine national tennis federation to produce more of the former so fans can watch a localized version of the latter. And the time is ripe to scour the country for potential stars and train them into becoming high-level international athletes who can draw more attention to the sport.
The Philippines’ record in the sport is nothing to sneeze at. Felicisimo Ampon, a tennis great, is one of the country’s athletic icons. Even in our modern history, we have the likes of Joseph Lizardo, Maricris Fernandez and Cecil Mamiit. Yet for all their talent, tennis has never had a grand stage in front of a mainstream audience. Thus, the sport hasn’t received as much attention as basketball, boxing, football or volleyball.
The IPTL has changed that. It has proven that given the presence of stars, tennis can hog the spotlight. Impressed by the fans’ reception during the Manila leg, IPTL officials promised to bring the tournament back next year, with bigger stars. But can anyone get bigger than Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Gael Monfils and Ana Ivanovic?
Already, fans are agog over the prospects of those stars returning, and other notables joining the field. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal perhaps? Throw in Novak Djokovic maybe? That there is such speculation proves that the IPTL has awakened a larger interest in the sport.
It would be a crying shame if the country doesn’t jump on the stage the IPTL has laid out and boost local tennis’ visibility to generate even more private support for the sport. There’s time enough to do it while fans await the return of the IPTL and its superstars.