The T20 version of tennis, as India Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali had put it, or the league format of the sport is quickly getting popularity across the globe. And India has its own, with Pro Tennis League (PTL) being one of them. But unlike those overseas, which witnesses a mix of some of the top players of the world, across ATP and WTA, clubbed into teams, PTL tends to function in a tad different way. It gives youngsters a shot at rubbing shoulders with the country’s top players and Zeeshan feels that is where it tends to make a direct impact on Indian tennis besides it providing a platform for the existing senior players to crack some sponsorship deals as well.
Speaking exclusively to Hindustan Times Digital, Zeeshan also spoke about his association with PTL, the popularity it has gained over four seasons and need to such leagues to be part of a “hectic calendar year”. Here are excerpts…
Q) Four seasons have gone by for PTL. You were there at the press meet last year calling it the ‘T20 of tennis’. How has the association been with PTL so far?
Well, from the first year to now, obviously, the league has grown leaps and bounds. It was something that was very new. There had been a couple of leagues in the country before on a much larger scale, obviously, which was difficult to sustain over a period of time. So obviously, four years down the line, I’m really happy to see that this particular league has continued to grow and more and more players have been interested in playing it.
Players look forward to playing it at the end of the year because the tennis season is a very hectic one starting right from January and goes on throughout the year. So an event like this is something that the players look forward to because apart from the financial gains that they have, it’s also an opportunity for them to enjoy playing something which they don’t normally do throughout the year. I mean, if you look at a team events in tennis it is basically Davis Cup or every four years there’s the Asian Games or the Olympics, and of course, for the women’s it’s the Billie Jean King Cup.
And so apart from that, there is no other opportunity for players to get together to play as a team and that’s something that this league offers. So apart from the serious aspect of it, it’s 15 points, 20 points, and it’s very fast moving and hence that makes it very interesting not just for the players, but for the crowd as well. So, like I said, starting from the first year to where they are right now, I think it’s been very good for tennis in India.
Q) Last year there was a hype around then Wimbledon winner Matthew Ebden being part of the league which kind of added to the charm, although he did pull out in the final moment. But do you thing the absence of a foreign star adds to a disadvantage in terms of gaining more popularity of PTL?
I think a foreign star only works for a league if he’s a very big name. If somebody’s 300 in the world or 250 in the world and coming to play a league, frankly speaking, it’s really not going to make much of a difference. The only thing that adds to it is a foreign flavor to the league. But apart from that, I think a league will only be very popular.
The kind of hype that it needs to generate will only be done if you’ve got the top players in the world coming in, because that’s when people will really want to come from all over the place to watch these guys play. So, frankly speaking, I really don’t think it really makes much of a difference if you’re getting somebody who’s 200 in the world to be a part of the league. I don’t think that’s really going to help the league become more popular than what it already is.
On the other hand, what this gives is an opportunity to the younger generation of players, the U14 and U16 kids who are all part of the league. For them, I think it’s the biggest takeaway from a league like this because they get a chance to play with the senior players, ask questions, be a part of the team.
See how these guys prepare themselves for matches and most importantly, ask 101 questions which they have in their minds, which otherwise they would not get a chance to do. So I think the biggest gain in terms of experience, in terms of education that this league has to offer, it is the junior players that benefit the most from something like this. And I think that’s great because at the end of the day, they are the future of Indian tennis.
Q) You just mentioned about the ‘hectic tennis calendar’. How do you see these leagues, which are now coming up across the globe, a fit at the end of an arduous calendar year when players are usually into some off-seasons routines for the fresh year?
Well, this is the only time that they can actually have leagues like this because the players have a really tight schedule throughout the to get together in one place. It’s not exactly very easy because players are playing tournaments in Europe and then you have the so the players are traveling everywhere.
So because it is more of an off-peak time, it is easier to get the players together at this time of the year. And yes, like you said, this off-peak season is generally a time when players need to work on certain aspects of the game or to take a break from the sport. But again, like I mentioned, it’s a fun one week of tennis, so it also gives a player a chance to work on their game and at the same time relax and enjoy and be a part of an event which is not just about serious tennis, but a lot of entertainment as well.
Q) In the wake of Asian Games outing, do you see such leagues making an impact on Indian tennis directly?
Well, I think it’s very important to have leagues like this. In fact, I think they should have had them even when we were playing. Unfortunately, there was nothing like that at that time. Like I said, it gives everybody an opportunity to not just come and have financial gains. But apart from that, get a chance to mingle, interact with the coaches, with the top players, with organisers, with sponsors. You do well in a league like that and there might be a sponsor that might be helping you out financially, which has happened in the past as so it’s a win win situation for the players and obviously the sponsors benefit from the publicity and the exposure that they get.