Hey, conflicted racquet-sports addict: do you love tennis, but find the sport's snail's pace, 19th century etiquette, and upper-crust sensibilities a little off-putting in today's modern world?
Great news. The International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) is your new-world savior, following in the thunderous footsteps of Vince McMahon's XFL or golf's rebranding with big holes and soccer balls. "Break the Code" is its rallying cry—to be remembered should the league's ground-breaking format forever change the tennis landscape.
Whether the IPTL is a "revolutionary team tennis event breaking through the boundaries of traditional tennis formats," or a thinly-veiled, capitalist ploy to tap Indian and Southeast Asian markets, who cares? It's revolutionary, according to Novak Djokovic, and that's all that matters; even if it is strikingly similar to World TeamTennis of 1970's fame (which, by the way, still exists).
The newly-formed league has all the fixings of what makes ATP and WTA Grand Slams great—Roger and Novak, Sampras and Agassi, Serena and Sharapova, an official $1 million championship prize (unofficially, $1 million-per-player payouts for top-drawers), and the added bonus of elite-squads from Manila, Delhi, Singapore, and Dubai, all vying for a gold-plated tennis racket.
But that's certainly not all. Want a shot clock and no ad scoring? Finally! Timeouts, team-huddles, and cheerleaders? Take that, American football. Not to mention, Coca-Cola and Qatar Airlines as sponsors, and team names like the Micromax Indian Aces, DBS Singapore Slammers, and Musafir.com UAE Royals rivaling the bold, clunky branding of college bowl games.
Need more? How about "happiness power points" worth double? Chair umpires that moonlight as hype-men to get crowds jacked? Or extremely perplexing scoring rules that even IPTL participants don't fully understand?
(For glorious proof, start around 34:00 and watch the epic Federer-Djokovic Delhi duel, where Fed took his victory-lap-and-racket-clap, only to be forced to restart, with no explanation from an expertly-edited telecast, eventually leading to a 6-6 final result. Because total games counted, not set-scoring, is the future. Even if Andre Agassi is "shockingly uncomfortable" with the format.)
The brainchild of Mahesh Bhupathi, a 40-year-old with 52 career doubles titles, the IPTL could swell to eight-teams by 2020, carrying the torch with fresh-format leagues across India such as the Hockey India League, the Indian Super League (whose soccer final saw 429 million people tune in), short-form cricket's successful Twenty20 Indian Premier League, and, undoubtedly, the burgeoning behemoth of professional kabaddi.
Of course, the league has haters, like ATP president Chris Kermode, who, in October, told reporters in Shanghai the IPTL was "just a series of glorified exhibitions."
Even Kermode sounded lukewarm about the future, firing a passing shot in the process: "I actually don't have a problem with it. It isn't the ATP's business what the players did in the off-season, even if they criticize the duration of the tour and then jet away to play exhibition events when the curtain falls on the calendar."
Which brings us to the bad news: if you're ready to book a one-way ticket to India and become a league roadie, you must wait 11 months. Because after three weeks of battle, culminating on December 13, Federer's Indian Aces claimed the league's inaugural title, declaring the experience "crazy but good fun."
The revelry of capitalizing on the golden opportunity was, indeed, perfectly balanced by the Swiss maestro's curiously-tepid excitement (and double-negatives) expressed ahead of the IPTL draft back in March:
"I don't know much about it to be honest," Federer said. "I just didn't sign up because I didn't want to. I first wanted to see it get off the ground. I wanted them to put in the work. They've already signed up a lot of other guys. I hope it's going to be successful, because there is definitely potential in the Asian market, so many people live here, a lot of tennis enthusiasts come from this part of the world.
"Who knows what's possible?"
Happiness—in the assorted stadiums, in the "power points" and in these pro's pocketbooks—now seems more actualized reality than mere possibility, thanks to the IPTL.
But with the Australian Open's January 19 start approaching, it's back to the same ol' shot-clock-less grind for most of the league's stars; until 2015's second-season rolls around, with the sweet sounds of DJ Irie available to occupy fans between now and then.
See you in Asia next winter.