REUTERS - Reforms, new concepts and the big names of tennis will ensure a solid future for the sport despite growing competition and the emergence of eSports, international federation (ITF) president David Haggerty said.
As attention shifts to the year’s second Grand Slam, the French Open starting in Paris next Sunday, Haggerty said tennis, like many established sports, was competing with new ones as well as digital sports for the young generation’s attention and recreational time.
ESports will be an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games, a result of its exponential global growth in the past few years.
Major eSports, or electronic sports, events regularly draw tens of thousands of spectators in stadiums and online to watch professional video game competitions, with multi-million-dollar prize money on offer.
Professional sports teams across the globe have joined in, eager to tap into this growing market early, investing in their own eSports teams to compete in leagues and extend their brand’s reach.
“Young people have many different alternatives and we have to make sure that our sport remains relevant for them to play,” Haggerty told Reuters in an interview.
Current planned reforms include ways to make the Davis Cup and Fed Cup more attractive to players, fans and broadcasters.
Reducing Davis Cup sets to best-of-three is among the recommendations to be put to the vote at the ITF’s annual meeting in Vietnam in August.
“We have to come up with different ways to help fans, broadcasters and players,” Haggerty said. He said he wanted “the Davis Cup and Fed Cup as the world cup of tennis, one of the top five events played”.
“We want to incentivise and have the top players play more often.”
Top players have often skipped Davis Cup ties, especially when they are scheduled soon after the conclusion of a two-week Grand Slam tournament, as they feel the competition is too taxing to fit into their ATP Tour schedules.
Plans for a fixed venue for the final under a three-year deal depend on expressions of interest to come in by the end of this month.
“If we were to have a fixed venue final for three years we would really promote the event and players would know where they are in November (every year),” he said.
Haggerty said the federation was discussing possibilities of using the Youth Olympics as a “laboratory” for potential new events for the sport.
”One thing we have talked about is using youth Olympic Games to test possibilities, ideas on formats. Such as beach tennis.
“We must innovate, which is I think what the International Olympic Committee is talking about.”
The current crop of big names in tennis can be relied on to support the sport, Haggerty said.
The women’s draw at the French Open may be missing former world number ones Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka but both are planning to return to the sport after giving birth and, with several talented players already grabbing the headlines, the level of competition would remain high.
Fellow former world number one Maria Sharapova has also returned to action following a 15-month doping ban amid a whirlwind of media coverage.
”Victoria will be back in July. She has been working out and it will be good. There is also (Britain‘s) Jo Konta that is up and coming. The next generation, there are quite a few young women such as Madison Keys.
“And the Serenas, Sharapovas and Azarenkas are not going any time soon.”
Editing by Clare Fallon