Looking at the ATP Next Gen finals

ATP Next Gen Finals
The ATP NextGen finals begin today

The ATP Next Gen Finals will begin today in Milan. 7 players qualified and one was given a wild card. Apart from the spectacular disaster that was the group selection process (Where players got to know which group they were in by looking for a chit on a model’s thigh/hidden on her arms), where even Hyeon Chung was visibly…scarred.

But there are several other fundamental issues with the finals in Milan which makes one question the very need for the finals in the first place.

Budget

The ATP is spending a lot of money in the marketing of the players and the advertising of the NextGen Finals. There are 1.2 million dollars in total for prize money. One questions why the ATP doesn’t spend this money on the challengers or futures tour, a section of the ATP that’s appallingly underfunded. The purpose of this event is to find the next Federer and Nadal who’ll carry forward the sport as they did. All the millions they’ve spent on the NextGen Finals could have very easily been spent on improving the prize money for the challenger’s titles, in which the number of players is vastly more.

Format

The NextGen Finals seems to be a testing ground for the implementation of a newer format. Best of five sets with a tiebreak at 3-3. No ad scoring, no service lets, one medical timeout per player, the matches will start 5 minutes after the second player enters, the coaches will be allowed to speak to players at certain points in the match and spectators are allowed to move around during play except at the baseline.

Each rule is seemingly more bizarre as the next. The shorter set completely takes away the thrill of the current format. A single break will more or less guarantee the set with limited scope for a comeback. No ad scoring/sudden death at deuce again takes away from the thrill of the sport. The implementation of this format in doubles took away the charm and lost some fans for sure.

The shorter format is to “allow for newer fans to enjoy the sport”. A poor way of saying that it’s targeted at younger people with shorter attention spans. And as one of the younger fans of the sport, I can say with certainty that I enjoy the current format as is. The bigger problem is that it’s not even the full reason. Telecasters might have asked for the change because matches can go for very long in the current format (Isner-Mahut, anyone?) which delays telecasts of other sports. While valid, completely taking away the charm of the sport is definitely not a solution.

The implementation of one medical timeout per player is extremely puzzling. Tactical timeouts are an oddity and there are moments where players need medical attention more than once.

No service lets is actually exciting. Players scrambling for the ball at a crucial point in the match will be fun to watch and will make the match more intense.

The 5-minute rule makes sense too. Matches usually start 10-15 minutes after the scheduled start. Maybe a little more than 5 minutes would be alright too, but it does make sense.

Spectators moving around during play will be extremely distracting to the players. It has been enforced in a limited manner in the US Open in the very last rows, but this led to players unhappy with the rule.

Then there’s other problems. Alexander Zverev, the current world number 3, withdrew from the tournament to focus on his prospects for London. This obviously must not have gone well with the ATP,  but that’s what it is.

It’s fairly obvious that the ATP is investing so much time and money in this venture because the pull Rafa and Roger have is something they’d need to keep the interest in the sport going and maybe even increase it. But with the way they’re going about it and having signed a contract with Milan till 2021, you have to wonder if it’s worth it.

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