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Mahesh Bhupathi hasn’t followed standard procedure while launching his star-studded, multi-million dollar International Premier Tennis League (IPTL). By getting players on board, forming teams before revealing the identity of the owners or explaining the business model, he has inverted the pyramid.
His enterprise should be applauded but can he pull this off?
Even though the Big Three — Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — have committed to the tournament, but questions and doubts remain. Who are the men who have splashed millions, that too behind closed doors, to sign the game’s biggest stars? Does the league have a sustainable business model? Will the stars be available for all matches? The tournament is still eight months away but the lack of transparency at its launch doesn’t give the fans the belief that they might actually see top stars representing their cities year after year.
Player commitment will be the key if the organisers hope to portray this as a serious tournament and not some exhibition league with half-serious celebrities. According to the ground rules, “marquee” players — those who have been world No 1 or won slams — are entitled to pick and choose their appearances, while others will be there for all the three weeks.
Adding to the confusions are the whispers emerging from sidelines of the player draft in Dubai. Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, they say, is unlikely to commit to anything more than a week. And he wouldn’t be part of the traveling circus and is expected to appear only in one city. Nadal and Djokovic too are expected to follow the same schedule.
With no official update, the grapevine has been buzzing. And that’s dangerous for an ambitious start-up. At at time when the Indian Premier League — from which IPTL is directly inspired — is hit by numerous scandals due to cloudy ownership patterns, the organisers should have been more transparent. The league has undeniable potential, but it’ll be interesting to see if Bhupathi can fit the pieces of this puzzle together in time for his winter premiere.
(Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai)