Mahesh Bhupathi’s brainchild, the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), took a giant step towards becoming a reality after the world numbers 1, 2 and 3 of the men’s game confirmed their participation for the IPL-style tournament. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka accepted the invitation to play in the cash-rich tournament on Friday along with former world No.2 and reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. From the women’s side, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka top the charts.
However, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova are the most notable absentees from the list of players released on Friday to participate in a ‘draft’ of 70 male and female players in Dubai on Sunday. Current Australian Open champion Li Na, Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro and the Bryan Brothers are other notable names missing from the list.
The players have been put into different categories depending on their status and market values. The five shortlisted venues — Hong Kong, Mumbai, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur — will compete against each other to bring the players to their city.
Nadal, Djokovic and Wawrinka are listed as ‘icon’ players along with Williams, Azarenka and Wozniacki. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi too have been included in this bracket. Former tour stars such as Michael Chang, Pat Rafter, Goran Ivanisevic and Carlos Moya, among others, have given their consent. These players have been included in the ‘past greats’ category.
Sania Mirza, Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna headline the Indian presence, in which Leander Paes’s name is conspicuously missing. Bopanna’s doubles partner Aisam ul-haq Qureshi of Pakistan too is included for the draft. Bhupathi has been tight-lipped about his plans for the league ever since it was announced last year. There were apprehensions over the participation of the top players, who have complained of a packed ATP and WTA schedule in recent years. It is believed that Bhupathi found it hard to convince the marquee players to join the league but managed to do so just hours before the draft list was made public.
The inaugural season of the IPTL is slated to be held during the international off season in November and December this year. Djokovic dispelled any concerns by committing himself to the tournament. “I think it’s a fantastic concept if it happens, obviously,” he had said on Thursday. “I hope and I believe it will. It’s a fun concept. It lets the players enjoy themselves on court and off court together. It’s something that we don’t get to see that much, the team concept. It’s not that easy to realise, because it’s a huge programme and project.”
It was reported earlier this week that Nadal would be paid close to $1 million per night by the IPTL to participate in the tournament. Other ‘icon’ players too can expect seven-figure sums once picked by the teams on Sunday.