Eugenie Bouchard joins UAE Royals franchise

Founder Mahesh Bhupathi optimistic about success of the International Premier Tennis League despite scepticism. Ahmed Rizvi reports.

Eugenie Bouchard has joined the UAE Royals. Elsa / Getty Images / AFP
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DUBAI // The sport’s biggest names are on board, venues are being spruced up and most of the broadcasting rights have been sold, with Abu Dhabi TV signing up for this region.

Mahesh Bhupathi cannot wait for November 28, the opening day of the hugely anticipated International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), to arrive.

Canadian sensation Eugenie Bouchard is the latest to join the event, signing up for the UAE Royals to replace Martina Hingis. She will play alongside men’s world No 1 Novak Djokovic and Frenchman Richard Gasquet, Croat legend Goran Ivanisevic and fellow WTA pro Caroline Wozniacki.

“It’s three months away, so everyone’s excited and we are looking forward to it,” said the Indian doubles star who founded the league. “We have done our TV deal in the Mena region with Abu Dhabi TV, so we are very excited that things are falling into place.”

Inspired by the success of cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL), Bhupathi has assembled an enviable start cast for the league, with Rafael Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Victoria Azarenka, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi being its earliest ­signings.

Nadal and Ivanovic will be representing the Indian Aces, Williams and Agassi will be the headline acts for the Singapore Slammers, while Murray and Sharapova will defend the colours of the Manila Mavericks, who will host the opening round from November 28 to 30.

The four franchisee-owned teams will then play in Singapore from December 2 to 4, before moving to Delhi for the December 6-8 third leg. The Hamdan Sports Complex hosts the final round from December 11-13, where the winning team will take home $1 million (Dh3.67m).

“The Hamdan Sports Complex is a unique venue,” Bhupathi said. “It’s one of the best indoor stadiums I have seen in the world. So we are looking forward to having world-class tennis there for the first time.”

The IPTL has been in the works for more than three years and Bhupathi said he had faced plenty of challenges through that period, mostly from sceptics, who still seem unconvinced about a place for an event like this in tennis.

“I expected scepticism and there is still a lot of scepticism across the world,” said Bhupathi, who said winning four doubles and mixed doubles grand slam titles was “easier” than putting together the IPTL.

“When the first day happens on November 28, I think the whole world will be watching. But I think, if it was easy, it would have been done a long time ago. So we were under no illusions and we knew we had our work cut out.

“Someone told me that where there is money, there’s always politics. But we are here to innovate and create something visionary and new, and we don’t want to get into politics.”

With “Break the Code” as their catchphrase, IPTL has promised to spice up the world of tennis as the IPL has done for cricket, and Bhupathi is convinced they will deliver. “We are breaking the code,” Bhupathi said. “It’s not traditional tennis. We are adding a lot of different aspects to it, different innovations.

“The players have always known about the concept and the vision, so they were very excited about it. The fact that you have the best men, the best women, some of the greatest players of all time playing on a team, it’s exciting.

“At the same time, we’ve got the cheerleaders, we’ve got the DJ, we’ve got the entertainment aspect of it, so hopefully it’s going to be a lot of fun for the fans. There’s going to be gifts, prizes, music and great tennis.”

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