July 10, 2020

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If there’s one thing that non-diehard tennis fans always point out, it’s the arcane (and to them, confusing) tennis scoring system.

While the “fast four” concept simplifies it to a certain extent, the new Ultimate Tennis Showdown exhibition event in the south of France is going about 10 steps further.

Scheduled to start Saturday with a full slate of matches, the actual scoring system was announced Thursday, just two days ahead of time.

It is … complex. And different.

Here are the rules (the panels come from the UTS Twitter account).

Four quarters (like the NBA/ NFL)

Two serves each, cumulative points

Does a gong go off mid-point?

So … a dead rubber

The lightning round!

First to two straight wins

Initial thoughts

At first glance, it actually seems like a lot of fun. Although the accumulated total points statistics are going to be very dependant on whether a player – or his opponent – plays at a quick or slow pace.

The opening-day OOP

(And you know there won’t be any time violations).

So it’s hard to know how much tennis they can squeeze into those 10-minute quarters.

The players will probably be confused, at first. So will those watching. And it’s likely the umpires also will screw up some.

But it’ll be intriguing, as the clock ticks down, what the strategies will be for the player who is behind. (If they have any at all). Will he try to finish points off quickly? Will he just slow things down to a crawl or try to initiate long rallies so the fewest number of points can be played?

Since no “code of conduct” is likely to be enforced, could a player theoretically … throw his racquet over the fence in “anger”, and then insist on it being his lucky racket and on the need to go and fetch it – thus wasting precious seconds? Entertainment!

It feels like this would be a great format for Nick Kyrgios. It’s too bad he’s not on board.

Money facts and figures

The event has announced that each match will have a pool of prize money, and that the winner will get 70 percent of it, and the loser the remaining 30 per cent.

But how much money are we talking about?

The answer is – an interesting amount, although not a game changer for some of them. And there is no guaranteed money.

Open Court has learned that each player in the event is assigned a value, in the range of $15,000 – $30,000 per match, based on ranking.

So those two values are put in a pot, and distributed as mentioned above. So, roughly, a pot might average out to about $44,000 per match, with the winner getting about $30,000 of that. Could be worse.

(On a related money note, while they haven’t made much mention at all of this tiny little detail – the streaming isn’t free. There’s a monthly subscription fee. And because the initial season is over … five weekends, that would roll over to a second month.

There will also be coverage on Tennis Channel in the U.S., TSN and RDS in Canada, and from BeIN Sports in 24 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, East Timor, Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore as well as nations in the Middle East and North Africa.

You have to think they’re scrambling a little to get this all done at the moment. Because streaming from the players’ practices, as they get ready for the big showdown, would be a great way to advertise given the quality cast.

Weather forecast: there could be some … stoppages on opening day.

Thiem to the rescue

The tournament lost Fabio Fognini, when the popular Italian (whose on-court persona seems ideal for the format) underwent surgery on both his ankles. They had been troubling him for some time.

Enter Dominic Thiem – whose exhibition schedule is quickly becoming as packed as his regular Tour schedule.

But Thiem isn’t available for the opening weekend. So France’s Elliot Benchetrit is subbing in.

Feliciano Lopez has come on as a sub for Félix Auger-Aliassime, who twisted his ankle a little in practice earlier this week and can’t answer the bell.

The “Zeus Trophy”

The concept isn’t quite clear (the quality of the English on the event’s website leaves a lot to be desired).

But if we read it correctly, the trophy for the first series of matches is called the “Zeus 1”.

Here’s the significance.

“Bold, iconic, the UTS1 trophy takes the shape of a lightning bolt making contact with the ground. More than just Zeus’ signature, the lightning bolt represents revolution, shock, change. It represents breaking away from the old and shocking with the new. UTS1 is the lightning bolt that tennis needed. UTS1 will strike so hard it will be groundbreaking. New format, new rules, new ways to play, watch and consume the sport; UTS1 will change the rules of the game. It will set a new standard that will clash with what tennis fans have known and seen before. It will be a revolution.”

Twisting the numbers

Benoit Paire will officially debut his new ‘do at the UT Showdown this weekend. (UTS)

There’s a lot to like about the ideas Patrick Mouratoglou and his team are putting out there for this.

Less likable is the insistence on characterizing the current tennis fan base as … one foot in the grave and resistant to change (okay, that last part might not be wrong).

“In fact, the average tennis fan is 61 years old, and this number is increasing each year. The new generations are not hopping along, and other sports fans tend to label tennis as “too long”, “too serious”, or “boring.”  Focused on tradition, tennis has been stagnant for the last 40 years… or since forever, basically. No wonder the sport has failed to adapt to today’s changing realities and attract a new and unique generation. What is going to happen when our 61-year-old tennis enthusiasts are no longer? Clearly, tennis is in a danger zone.”

Mouratglou says the average age was 51 a decade ago – and will be … 71 a decade from now. There’s no logic to that. At all. It’s inaccurate.

The “age 61” number, used occasionally, seems to have been plucked from a study done back in 2016 and published by Sports Business Journal of the average ages of major sports watchers – in the U.S. On network television.

The statement about the average age of 51 a decade ago is inaccurate – it was 20 years ago, in 2000. And the alleged number of 61 (which is not now, but in 2016) applies only to the men. Per that same survey, the average age of people watching WOMEN’s tennis on network TV dropped by eight years between 2006 and 2016.

But what that quoted survey mostly shines a light on is the fact that people in younger generations no longer consume their sports on network TV (as a dose of reality, tennis is hardly even ON network television any more).

While we know Mouratoglou is a salesman, to distort facts like that and spin them to promote his event is not ideal.

The exhibition already seems like a lot of fun. But there’s no need to put down the sport’s fan base to try to sell it, especially with fake news.