With the Big Four aging and their dominance fading, the ATP has been trying to find players to replace them when they inevitably retire. Indeed, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have single-handedly raised the stock of tennis across the world. Spectator attendance has risen and as a result the revenue of tournaments has increased which has led to huge financial rewards for players in the form of prize money and for the ATP in terms of revenue/profit. Each of the Big Four have transcended the sport and are amongst the most marketable athletes in the world. With this in mind, it is clear that replacing these icons is key to ensuring the viability of tennis in the future.
However, the ATP could be in something of a crisis when the Big Four do retire. The next crop of players to carry the ATP were meant to be Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and others. Whilst they have done admirably and their careers are flourishing, they have been prevented from approaching any sort of dominance due to the continued success of the Big Four. In this way, the ATP has started to target the new generation of young players coming through and introduce them to fans as the future of the ATP.
The primary way they are trying to do this is the launch of the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan which runs from 7-11 November 2017. Milan has the contract until 2021 so this is clearly something which the ATP foresees as being a key part in developing fans for these young players. In fact, Chris Kermode, ATP Executive Chairman and President, states, “I think this is the most exciting thing we’ve done in the ATP World Tour for a couple of years, it’s a launching the birth of the next generation of stars.”
The tournament is only open to players 21 and under with 7 winning their way there in a Race to Milan and the 8th being a wild card. The format of the Next Gen tournament will be a round robin, akin to the ATP World Tour Finals, and will boast a prize fund of $1.275 million.
Promotion for this event contains players such as Alexander Zverev, Frances Tifaoe, Borna Coric and Taylor Fritz saying, “I am the next generation” and “We are the future”. As with most marketing, it is over-done and crowbars in their message that these are the players we as fans are to look forward to watching in the future. It’s strange as well because Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric will not be unknown to tennis fans. Zverev has been tipped to be a future world number one, is currently ranked number 17 and has won two titles this year already. Coric is ranked within the top 50, has won a title this year and just last week beat the current world number one, Andy Murray.
Meanwhile, in a new Youtube video posted yesterday, the ATP have introduced rule changes and ‘innovation’ for the tournament in Milan. In reality, this means a complete change of what constitutes a tennis match. The sets will be to four games, best of five sets, no-ad scoring, no lets and have a shot clock. Chris Kermode claims that this, “…will act as a launch pad for tennis innovation as we bid to make our sport more attractive to the changing consumer habits of the next generation of fans.”
Changes like this are incredibly damaging to the credibility of tennis as a sport and pleases no one. No-ad scoring is a major issue and the introduction of this in doubles matches has really destroyed the enjoyment for tennis fans. It makes deuce a sudden death situation which is really against what tennis should be. Consistent deuces increase tension and can provide momentum swings which are impossible when one big serve can win you a game.
Furthermore, the no lets ‘innovation’ makes the game gimmicky and luck a much more potent factor. Indeed, it smacks of exhibition tennis as opposed to a tennis tournament meant to be showcasing the future stars of our sport. Moreover, the short nature of the sets will mean that if one player gets an early break, the set is pretty much over. A lot of the excitement tennis can create is due to the fact that comebacks are possible because of the unique scoring system. In a situation where the first person to four games is the winner, an early break can very easily lead to an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
Another pressing matter is that of finance: how can the ATP justify spending $1.275 million dollars in prize money for eight players at a special event when the Challengers and Futures are so woefully underfunded? The Challengers and Futures should be the breeding ground for the elite players of the future, the battleground for players to prove themselves and move on. Players like Dominic Thiem and David Goffin, who are in my opinion, the future stars of the game, proved themselves through the Challenger tour. There does seem to be an unfairness in the fact that they are highly promoting these players who already have lucrative sponsorship deals when finance is the leading cause of players dropping out of tennis.
The crux of the issue is that the ATP is concerned that when the Big Four retire, tennis will struggle. This panic is manifesting itself in a desperate attempt to pluck stars out of nowhere and try to manufacture the same effect the Big Four have had for the last decade. The Big Four came about organically and it took many years for Djokovic and Murray to establish themselves with Federer and Nadal. The ATP should be wary of alienating current tennis fans who already buy tickets to ATP tournaments and are fully aware of the likes of the ‘Next Gen Stars’ in favour of casual tennis fans who only know Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray. Gimmicky ‘innovations’ will not serve to enhance the sport but will only turn hardcore tennis fans off and confuse casual fans who can struggle with the scoring system at the best of times. It remains to be seen what effect this tournament will have on these Next Gen players and whether any of them will be able to continue on an upward trajectory or fade into obscurity.