An empty house does not diminish the play at the IPTL show

In regards to the International Premier Tennis League, the organisers of the inaugural Dubai leg appeared to have invited the high-profile acts but forgot to invite fans to come and watch them perform.
Kristina Mladenovic of the UAE Royals returns a volley to Micromax Indian Aces player Ana Ivanovic during their match of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) at Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex in Dubai.  Ali Haider / EPA
Kristina Mladenovic of the UAE Royals returns a volley to Micromax Indian Aces player Ana Ivanovic during their match of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) at Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex in Dubai. Ali Haider / EPA

To paraphrase Jim Morrison in Wayne’s World 2, if you invite them, they will come. Only in regards to the International Premier Tennis League, the organisers of the inaugural Dubai leg appeared to have invited the high-profile acts but forgot to invite fans to come and watch them perform.

It was always going to be a challenge to attract capacity crowds to a new tournament with a new format at a relatively new venue 30 kilometres deep into the desert – even with the men’s world No 1 in attendance. Yet the challenge becomes near-impossible when the event is under-promoted. The appearance of Novak Djokovic is only a crowd-puller if the potential crowd to be pulled knows he is here.

Here is an example: I have two tennis-mad cousins in Dubai, one of whom can tell you anything and everything about almost any player ranked inside the top 50 on the ATP Tour; the other has a collection of tennis trophies that would make even a proud mother blush. However, despite being driven past the Hamdan Sports Complex every day on the way to and from school, they had no idea the IPTL was even here. And they are not anomalies. Over the past three days, the number of people who have said they were unaware the event was taking place is remarkable. Some of these people work in sports media. Organisers said they sold around 6,000 tickets for each night, yet the 8,000-seat arena never reached even 50 per cent capacity.

More concerning is that on Thursday, the official online retailer said tickets were sold out, meaning those who wanted to attend were told it was no longer possible to gain access. Considering previous legs in the Philippines, Singapore and India were all well-received and well-attended, the empty seats in Dubai were disappointing.

It is a shame. Dubai has repeatedly shown an appetite for tennis and those who made the trip to the city’s outskirts will undoubtedly have enjoyed their evening. The Hamdan Sports Complex is as great a venue for racquet sports as it is for swimming and the IPTL is a neat mixture of tennis and entertainment, mixing music and choreographed dancers with smiling athletes and, at times, high-intensity sport.

The action may essentially be exhibition tennis, but the players appeared to take it semi-seriously. While there were no tears shed when Djokovic lost to Tomas Berdych, Goran Ivanisevic was irrefutably angry when he was beaten by Mark Philippoussis, smashing the ball at his opponent in frustration.

The most-enjoyable aspect of the IPTL was observing camaraderie between teammates. Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki are two of the most personable players in the game, so they were always going to prove popular in this fun format. When they appeared for a joint press conference, they performed a five-minute comedy act. Unfortunately – much like the stands – there were only a few reporters to witness it.

“A full-house,” Djokovic joked dryly as he surveyed the empty room. “I’d like to thank you all for coming out.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 14, 2014 04:00 AM

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