MILAN (Reuters) - Some thought he was mad launching a tournament with radical rules claiming to be re-inventing tennis, but ATP chief Chris Kermode believes his Milan experiment has a future.
A project he dreamed up some two years ago, the Next Gen ATP Finals features short sets up to four games, scraps advantage points in favour of “sudden death” deuce and does away with service lets.
Live Hawkeye line calls and shot-clocks keep the best-of-five-set matches fast and furious.
Some professional doubles tournaments already use “no-ad” games, including next week’s ATP Finals in London, but top-level singles has been sacrosanct -- using a scoring system with origins in the 16th Century.
“I rarely get excited about anything and I was so, so excited about what I’ve seen over the last two days,” 52-year-old former pro Kermode told a group of reporters in the Fiera Milan hall hosting the sport’s best players aged 21 and under.
”One of the ATP 250 tournament directors came today, he was very sceptical. But he said ‘hands up Chris, I thought a lot of the ideas were mad but when I sat through today I saw the difference in the level of intensity’.
”He said would you consider the 250s having this. My view is, it either works or it doesn‘t. If it works, you roll it out on the Tour. If it doesn‘t, it doesn‘t.
“The big changes -- best of five, first to four, is that going to happen in the next five years? No chance. In my opinion. Can it happen in 10 years? Yeah I think it could.”
‘TAKING AWAY THE DEAD TIME’
The future might not be now, as the banners around the stadium claim, although Kermode thinks shot clocks to enforce the 25-second gap between points rule could arrive soon.
Round-robin matches in Milan have generally lasted around the same time as three-set duels but they feel more intense, with every point feeling crucial.
“It’s not just reducing time. Because if a product is boring for six hours then it can be boring for six minutes,” Kermode said. “It’s about taking away the dead time, making more points matter. The last two days the intensity has been extraordinary.”
Kermode accepts some believe tennis does not need fixing, especially with the ATP Tour still basking in the sunset of the Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal era.
But he says tennis must innovate and promote the young guns who could fill the void when Federer, 36, Nadal (31) and Novak Djokovic (30), winners of a combined 47 majors, retire.
”Lots of people question why are you ‘messing’ with it. We’re not messing with it. I think most sports wait too long and assume the show, the products they have, will last forever.
”It’s not difficult to run a tournament with Federer and Nadal in it,“ Kermode said. ”Anywhere in the world they’ll fill a stadium. Tennis has got to be bigger than any of the players.
“I felt we had a responsibility to promote the next generation of players, make the world aware of who’s coming.”
Alexander Zverev, 20, is already ranked three while Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov, Russian trio Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev and South Korean Hyeon Chung -- all in action in Milan -- are knocking on the door.
Selling the new concept to them, Kermode said, was easy.
“I’ve never had so much support from a group of players. They’re going: ‘This is incredible you’ve pulled this off,” he said.
“Maybe we go through this week and find actually we don’t need to touch the game. That’s okay. But I think there are quite a few things we’re trying here that really make a difference.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by John Stonestreet