The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) has announced a series of rule changes and innovations that will be trialled at its inaugural Next Gen Finals event in November in an effort to attract new and younger fans to the sport.
The new season-ending tournament will see the world’s top 21-and-under players of the season competing for total prize money of $1.275m (€1.17m) from November 7-11 in Milan, Italy. The rule changes are aimed at creating a high-tempo, cutting-edge, and television-friendly product.
A shorter match format will include first to four games sets, with tie breaks at three-all, across best-of-five sets with no-ad scoring. Shorter warm-ups will see matches begin precisely five minutes from the second player walk-on, leading to a reduction in down time before the beginning of matches.
A shot clock will be used in between points to ensure strict regulation of the 25-second rule, as well as during set breaks, medical time-outs, and the five-minute countdown from the player walk-on to the first point of the match. A no-let rule will apply to serves, which the ATP said will bring in an additional element of unpredictability at the start of points.
Players and coaches will be able to communicate at certain points in the match, providing additional content and entertainment value for broadcast. However, coaches will not be allowed on-court.
In addition, a ‘free movement’ policy will be applied to the crowd, except behind the baselines, throughout the tournament. The policy will enable fans to move freely in and out of the stadium during matches, ensuring spectators are not restricted entry into the stadium at any time.
The ATP, governing body of men’s tennis, said it carried out extensive market research and fan surveys across more than 13 different markets through SMG Insight prior to determining which rule changes to trial at the inaugural tournament.
Chris Kermode, ATP executive chairman and president, said in a statement: “The sports and entertainment landscape is changing rapidly, as are the ways in which fans are consuming our sport. This event is not only about the next generation of players, but also about the next generation of fans.
“We’ve created this new tournament precisely to allow us to look at some potential new elements, in a high-profile environment. We remain acutely aware of the traditions in our sport, and we will be sure to safeguard the integrity of our product when assessing if any changes should eventually be carried forward onto regular ATP World Tour events in the future.”
By next week, the superstars of men’s tennis – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic – will each be 30 or over and Kermode admits that the ATP needs to be looking to the future.
“We’re probably coming to the end of one of the greatest eras of tennis that certainly I’ve ever seen, and what we need to do as a sport is look to the next generation of players and how we can put them on a platform, a showcase, to demonstrate to the world how great this next generation is going to be,” Kermode said, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Milan was awarded a five-year hosting contract for the Next Gen Finals in November, which will run until the 2021 edition of the event. The season-long ATP Race to Milan schedule began in January. The top seven ranked players aged 21 and under at the end of the season will qualify for the Finals, with the eighth spot to be reserved for a wild card.
World No.17, Alexander Zverev (pictured) of Germany, would be the highest-ranked qualifier at this moment in time.