UPDATE: Félix Auger-Aliassime has pulled out with a niggle suffered in practice. Feliciano Lopez will replace him. A replacement for Fabio Fognini is to be announced shortly.
As the phantom clay-court season ends, the pandemic exhibition season is beginning in earnest with the UTS Showdown.
The first slate of matches is set for Saturday at Patrick Mouratoglou’s academy in the south of France. “UTS” is short for “Ultimate Tennis Showdown”.
Originally, the plan was for the series to begin nearly a month ago; the easing of restrictions in France took longer than expected, and so pushed back the start.
Are you ready for a one-handed backhand battle between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Richard Gasquet, the unexpected between Dustin Brown and Benoit Paire and a couple of young guns in Félix Auger-Aliassime and Alexei Popyrin (whose father, Alex, is involved in putting this together along with Mouratoglou?).
The intriguing question will be whether or not people will be willing to pay for exhibition tennis (perhaps fairly rusty tennis) involving some excellent players, but mostly not the top-ranked players in the world.
It will begin with five consecutive weekends of matches. According to ESPN.com’s Peter Bodo, each match will offer a purse, with the winner taking 70 percent of the pot.
The actual match format is still to be announced, but here’s what the schedule looks like:
The price set on the UTS website is $12.90 a month (that’s actually in Canadian dollars, a better deal than the European price of 11,99 euros). It’s renewable monthly; the league, according to its website, plans to be a year-round endeavour.
For that you get the streaming, and replay capability, and behind-the-scenes access. There are two days of matches scheduled this weekend for the premiere;
Here are the players who have signed on: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini, David Goffin, Lucas Pouille, Benoit Paire, Richard Gasquet, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Alexei Popyrin and Dustin Brown.
Fabio Fognini had been scheduled to be part of it, but he had surgery on both ankles last week to address long-standing issues. They have yet to announce a replacement.
As pandemic entertainment it looks promising; but will people pay roughly the same amount as they already pay for either the WTA or the ATP streaming services, just to watch exhibitions?
Only time will tell. But kudos for someone trying to do something different, to value-add to the sport. Mouratoglou is trying to appeal to the younger crowd – it won’t be traditional scoring, and they won’t be tough on the code of conduct.
With the professional game on shutdown at the moment, it is certainly the right time to try.