Competitive tennis was on a hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and in a bid to allow players and fans in touch with the sport, a number of exhibition tournaments were organized. The Ultimate Tennis Showdown was one such exhibition tennis competition but why was it so different? Here’s more on everything related to the Ultimate Tennis Showdown exhibition competition which is expected to change the way tennis is perceived.
John Isner and Nicholas Mahut went to court on June 22, 2010 at Wimbledon for what looked like it would be a regulation opening round match. Isner was the 23rd seed, Mahut a qualifier and they strutted out on to Court 18 for their encounter on day two of that year’s Championships.
The match went into the fifth set after a fighting Mahut came back from a set down to go 2-1 up before Isner took the fourth set in a tie-breaker. So far, so normal.
Things unravelled themselves in the final set, which began the next day after the match had to be suspended at the end of the fourth set because of light issues.
When the match resumed on the second day, it wasn’t expected to go on for too long given only one set remained but the crowd hadn’t bargained for what was to follow. Isner and Mahut played the entire day and 118 games later, the final set was tied at 59-59.
20 more games were played on day three of the match before Isner clinched that 11 hour, five minute long contest, winning 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68.
Yep, that match lasted more than 11 hours and there was no doubting the fans enjoyed it. But can the fans take a lot of these marathon tennis matches and more importantly, do such tennis matches make the sport an attractive proposition for newer fans while competing with eyeballs with other exciting sporting events?
Patrick Mouratoglou certainly doesn’t seem to think so.
What is the Ultimate Tennis Showdown?
The Ultimate Tennis Showdown or UTS as it’s called, is a newer, funkier version of tennis which was introduced by famous coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Intended to appeal to the younger audiences, UTS was first played in June 2020 in Nice, France.
The UTS was a brainchild of both Mouratoglou, who is incidentally also the coach of Serena Williams, and Aussie tennis player Alexei Popyrin and introduced during the coronavirus pandemic-induced break from the sport.
The first edition of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown was played in June 2020, with a whole load of big-ticket players featuring in the tournament. These included Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem, Benoit Paire and Lucas Pouille among others.
But more than anything else, UTS used a completely revamped format in a bid to make tennis more real and from the 1970s and 1980s. More on it below…
Why was the Ultimate Tennis Showdown Introduced?
There were multiple reasons behind the invention of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown and its inventor Patrick Mouratoglou spoke about it extensively. They were:
- Tennis Needed to be Disrupted
- Average Fan Age of 61 was Increasing Regularly
- Tennis Needed to Attract Younger Fans
- Need for Authenticity
- Need for Diversity
Speaking to the media before the start of the first season of UTS, Mouratoglou said the need to disrupt the sport came from the fact the average age of fans in tennis was more than 60 and increasing. And that was the reason to do something different in a bid to “renew the fans”.
Mouratoglou also attacked the need to be politically correct playing tennis these days making it tougher to attract the younger fans and that was one of the reasons for the changed format.
“All this is because of rules that have been put in place, rules to prevent young players to reach the finals of a Grand Slams.”
“The uniformization of the surfaces and the code of conduct, which is rules also, that get rid of the diversity of the personalities on court. And the personalities are very polished now and I think it affects the show. The game of tennis is incredible. The show of tennis, I think, is very old fashioned.”
UTS was a means to get rid of that old-fashioned nature of tennis.
One of the ways to do that was to reduce the playing time, which according to Mouratoglou is a problem for the younger audience. Comparing the way tennis is played these days with a marathon, Mouratoglou said by making the sport sleeker and crisper, it could attract non-tennis fans to the sport as well.
Ultimate Tennis Showdown Rules & Regulations – How it it Different from Conventional Tennis?
There are numerous innovations introduced for the Ultimate Tennis Showdown which are expected to disrupt the way tennis is played. Some of the rules include:
- Matches will be played over four quarters of 10 minutes each
- Each player gets two serves and it’s alternated
- Player with more points won in that stipulated time wins that quarter
- If the quarter ends in the middle of a point, that point still carries on till completion
- If a quarter ends tied on points, a single, deciding point is played
- Player winning three out of four quarters wins the match
- Even if a player wins three quarters, the fourth quarter will be played for average calculation purpose
- If match is tied at two quarters each, a sudden death tie-breaker is played
- Player winning two successive points in the tie-breaker wins the match
- Serve will alternate after every point in the tie-breaker
- Player who has won most points in the first four games opts whether to serve first or the side
- Players will be allowed to express themselves on the court within reason, i.e. throwing or smashing rackets will be a norm
- A 15-second shot clock will be used; i.e. a player will need to serve within 15 seconds of the previous point getting over
Mouratoglou said he spoke to the players and explained the reasoning behind why the rules needed to be changed and revealed he had received a positive response from all of them about the competition.
And with matches expected to finish in less than one hour, more of them would be played in a single day allowing for shorter and more efficient tournaments and reduced costs, money which can then be ploughed back into the sport.
Here’s a launch video of UTS:
You’re in for a wild ride.
— UTS | Ultimate Tennis Showdown (@UTShowdown) June 11, 2020
Is the Ultimate Tennis Showdown Format Here to Stay?
This is a difficult one to tell this early in the life of the UTS format but one way or the other, the coronavirus pandemic has given tournaments like the Ultimate Tennis Showdown a platform to exist and experiment.
The concept has its merits. There is a general recognition that tennis needs to cater to younger audience too which is also why the ATP circuit has tried out the quicker, Fast4 Tennis format at the Next Gen tennis competition.
There is also a fine line between making a huge upheaval to the sport as opposed to making tweaks which could go on to garner enough support from the audiences. The UTS belongs to the former category while the Fast4 format is of the latter kind.
This is not to say UTS won’t succeed, well, if the audience like it and the sponsor like it then who is to stop Ultimate Tennis Showdown becoming a parallel tour or even merging with ATP and WTA. However, we will need to wait and watch about that before jumping the gun.
What did Serena Williams Say about UTS?
According to Mouratoglou, his ward and arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all times, Serena Williams gave him some advice too. She told Mouratoglou to have the same competition for women too from season one, which obviously hasn’t happened but the French coach has promised that for the upcoming editions.
Mouratoglou also said Williams was very supportive about the idea and gave him tips about the points system some of which have been used by him for the tournament. However he did add there were other tips from Serena which were deemed to be too risky and might be kept for later use.
Players Involved in the First Season of UTS
As the competition matures, more and more players can be expected to make it to the tournament, including female players who weren’t a part of the first season. Some of the top players involved in the first season included Greek number one Stefanos Tsitsipas, world number three Dominic Thiem, Australian Open semifinalist Lucas Pouille and Alexei Popyrin among others.