How to Make the Summer of Tennis Exhibitions More Interesting

Professional tennis has returned, in a similar fashion to what I proposed in April, with many ATP, WTA, and Challenger/ITF level players returning to organized competitive matches using hub locations scattered around the globe and round robin style competition for money and pride, but not official ATP/WTA ranking points, which remain frozen in place. The world is finally learning how to live alongside the coronavirus pandemic, with many organized activities including sports, slowly returning after mass cancellations earlier in the year.

We’re still a ways off from a formal return to competitive tennis, but the exhibition circuit is scheduled all summer and currently in full swing, including the UTR Pro Match Series in the USA, the Valencia Tennis Challenge (featuring Roberto Bautista Agut and Alex De Minaur), the Livescore Cup (featuring the Pliskova sisters), the Adria and Croatian tennis tours (featuring Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic), The Ultimate Tennis Showdown in France (featuring David Goffin), a tour in Britain featuring Andy Murray, an exhibition in Charleston, United States that mirrors their normally scheduled WTA tournament and features Bianca Andreescu and Sloane Stephens, and a series of events in Germany and Austria headlined by Dominic Thiem.

This hub model, testing for coronavirus, and then isolating players and a limited amount of essential support staff (chair umpire, tv camera operators etc.) at or near tennis venues, without fans in the stands, is working thus far, with no outbreaks of coronavirus at these exhibitions.

While the tennis action is a welcome respite from the problems of the real world for tennis enthusiasts and the tennis betting community, they are, up to this point, struggling to attract a strong casual audience on tv/streaming and generating only limited attention on social media. Most players are still working on returning to form after a long layoff, and that’s another reason the action has been uninteresting to this point.

What is needed to make these exhibitions more interesting is getting them better organized, with players sorted into hubs to create enough exciting tier 1 matchups to generate viewer interest, and a temporary and limited points system setup similar to the ATP’s “Race to London”, that awards a pool of bonus prize money and allows for the creation of a “champions” hub for players that are peaking during the exhibition season to face off before it concludes. This model would incentive players further to up their game, provide an opportunity for lesser known players to shine and earn additional money, and create more discussions among tennis fans about these events.

Getting tennis back was a great step one, but making tennis interesting again without the ATP/WTA/Grand Slam wrapping is the next challenge.

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