Is tennis in that much trouble? Gameshow formats suggest these are desperate times

Is tennis is that much trouble? Gameshow formats suggest these are desperate times

The moneymen behind the ATP Tour have grown concerned in recent years that the sport of tennis is not as exciting as it should be and no longer appeals to the younger audience.

Too much downtime is the single biggest criticism that tennis faces, with players sitting down for 90 seconds between the change of ends after every two games, meaning for much of the time there is no action for fans to watch.

Other issues that can cause headaches for both tournament organisers and fans alike, include the unpredictability of start times for tennis matches, with weather delays and extended matches often pushing schedules backwards.

Whether or not these facts make the game boring can be disputed, but what is for sure is that tennis has seen some new exciting formats trialled in an attempt to capture the viewers’ attention.

As a tennis fan, I have found this all a bit unnecessary because I have not noticed the sport lose any of its excitement or tension.

However, there must be an issue with falling viewers and sponsorship revenues because the order has come down from the men at the top with the graphs, that the game needs ‘spicing up’.

There have been three different formats tested out over the past couple of years.

Next Gen ATP Finals – no advantage points and shorter sets

The Next Gen ATP Finals has been one tournament that has experimented with slight tweaks to the rules since its inaugural edition in 2017.

It is a round-robin tournament played between the eight best players aged 21 and under from the season.

They have used a shortened version of the game of tennis, with sets played only to four games, and no advantage points played, meaning each point at deuce is a deciding point.

The idea was to create more big points in the matches, with the crunch moments at the ends of sets and games coming around more frequently.

To visualise the message that this game of tennis is slightly different to normal, the courts are built without the tramlines, as no doubles are to be played during the event. In-match coaching is also permitted in this format.

Overall, the spectacle is still an exciting one for fans, but the impression is that the youngsters’ tournament was a good place to trial these rules, and they would not fit in the proper ATP Tour anywhere else.

Notably, the Next Gen Finals is the only ATP organised tournament that has tweaked the rules of tennis, unlike the independently launched events below.

The Ultimate Tennis Showdown – weird but entertaining

The brainchild of legendary coach Patrick Mouratoglou, and the father of promising Australian player Alexei Popyrin, this event is truly showbiz tennis.

Matches consist of four 15-minute quarters, with single points awarded for each rally winner, and the leader at the end of the time claiming the quarter – first to three quarters wins.

However, this game has all sorts of wildcards, such as triple point, take away your opponent’s first server, and volley winner.

These wildcards, though bizarre, do add a completely new element to a match and gives fans a reason to watch closely, as something different is always happening.

The Ultimate Tennis Showdown also features a tense ending when players are tied at two quarters each, with a tie-break being won by the first player to win two points in a row.

Tie Break Tens – a race to the finish from the very beginning

The other new format that has been trialled in tennis is the exciting Tie Break Tens events.

This event has been running since 2015 and has featured some of the top names in the sport such as Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Rafa Nadal and Dominic Thiem.

The format as you may have guessed is simply a match that consists of a tie break to ten points.

It is an exciting system with the race to the finish line starting from the very first point.

Matches last only around 15 minutes, so all players competing in the event sit courtside and watch adding another element to the show.

The whole event from quarter finals right through to the final takes place over one evening, meaning fans get to see eight players and seven matches for the price of their ticket.

All these innovations have been entertaining to see, but few will probably make their way into the main ATP and WTA tours.

What they do show, though, is that there is a degree of panic amongst the bean counters at the top of the game of tennis.

As the curtain finally draws on the careers of global icons Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, there is a concern that the sport is not producing the next generation of marketable superstars.

Bosses are scrambling to find ways to keep viewing figures high, and more importantly, keep their audiences young.

If the downward trend continues, then we could see a split in the tour with players choosing to take part in breakaway events throughout the season to boost their bank balances and their profiles.