Belgium’s David Goffin will be playing tennis in Nice this weekend and it will be live and on TV. (Friso Gentsch/dpa via AP)
Belgium’s David Goffin will be playing tennis in Nice this weekend and it will be live and on TV. (Friso Gentsch/dpa via AP)|Associated Press

Tennis slowly re-opens with the men's Ultimate Tennis Showdown from the French Riviera – Neal Abrams previews the event and the new rules

The Ultimate Tennis Showdown starts Saturday, May 16, in Nice, with a field TBD.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

With most of the world still adhering to stay-at-home orders, the tennis world is very slowly reawakening, like bears out of hibernation, with a couple of exhibitions that will feature men this weekend and women next weekend. Albeit, they’ll be governed by new and different rules set in this post-coronavirus environment of today.

Following last weekend’s strange but successful four-man round-robin format that featured Americans Reilly Opelka, Tennys Sandgren and Tommy Paul along with Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz playing no-ad scoring to the shortened set winning score of four games, comes this week’s new efforts. Those shortened sets were all played without ball boys, linesmen, or announcers on someone’s backyard court in Southern Florida, and although the exhibition had the appearance of matches that offered little prize money, no ranking points, and the experimental scoring system which may never see the light of day in any of the four Grand Slam tournaments, it still provided this global sport a live appearance on television, providing a head start over all the other sports TV audiences have grown accustomed to watching.

The men have a small, 50-match “league” scheduled to start tomorrow, Saturday, May 16, in Nice, on the French Riviera. This brand new event has been put together by Alex Popyrin, the father of Australian player Alexei Popyrin, and Patrick Mouratoglou, the French coach who works with Serena Williams. This made-for-TV Ultimate Tennis Showdown, as it’s to be known, will kickoff with a match between World #10 Belgian David Goffin and the aforementioned Alexei Popyrin at Mouratoglou’s Academy. Although his academy has both European Clay and Hard Courts, it appears that the league, which is for worldwide TV viewing only, will be staged on their clay courts. Not much information is currently available about the league even though it is scheduled to start tomorrow.

Both Goffin and Popyrin play out of the Mourgatoglou Academy, so it was easy for the principals to book them both to play the opening match. But even at this late date it has not been announced who will be playing the remainder of the first weekend’s matches. But you can be assured that when it is announced we will be reporting on it, and we’d expect to see more of Mouratoglou’s stable of players step up to be included. After all, if this exhibition is to be successful, the remainder of this weekend’s five matches will be starting in less than 24 hours.

For the participants it’s about playing their way into shape and to provide the public a peek at some of the sport’s best players. Aside from keeping the players away from each other, they’ll be playing with new rules designed to fit our new environment.

The players will be required to change sides at different sides of the net, to avoid each other as much as possible. There will be no touching allowed, so shaking hands at the conclusion of each match will be off limits, and the matches will be limited to singles only. Additionally, each player will have one can of tennis balls earmarked for their service games and marked accordingly. At the end of each game, the balls with which the match had been played with the previous game will be put back in their can, and a separate can marked with the opposing players’ name on it will be broken out for play in the other players’ service game. In this way a player will not be allowed to serve, and therefore handle, the balls with which his or her opponent had been handling the previous game. Ball boys and girls appear to be optional, but if used they will be required to wear protective gloves so as to prevent the balls used to be touched by more than the minimum number of persons involved in the match. Furthermore, in order to try to reach out and appeal to a broader and younger audience, in-match coaching will be allowed, and there will be fewer restrictions on player behavior than at previous tournaments. Another feature that I am anxious to see is the introduction of players calling their own lines. This new reform will be introduced in these exhibitions, but the one umpire selected to work this particular event will have the ability to overrule line calls he deems to be inaccurate.

Commentary on these select matches from the international press will be sparing, as few media publications appear ready to send reporters. But we will offer our insight on both the event itself and the matches individually presented for public consumption. More than at any other time, we are encouraging feedback on what you see on TV. Please leave comments about your thoughts on these events. It is our intention to reply, and we hope that we can initiate and provide a place where the global tennis community can come together and initiate “talk” media, even if it’s only in the “written” form.

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