Pro Tennis League bloomed in 5 yrs and India’s tennis talent found its feet. What’s next? PTL co-founder explains
The Pro Tennis League (PTL) is all set to return for the fourth season, starting December 1 in New Delhi, and it is getting bigger. As many as 64 tennis players will be part of the event, which includes top-ranked stars across the country in ATP and WTA circuits, junior players along with former pros. But what has already made fans talk about PTL 4 is the involvement of Matthew Ebden, the 2022 Wimbledon doubles champion.
In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times ahead of the tournament, Aditya Khanna, the co-founder of the PTL, talked about the impending season, what the future holds for PTL and the participation of Ebden.
Here are excerpts…
Q) Tell me about your thoughts on the Pro Tennis League?
The idea behind Pro Tennis League started five years back. There was no league at that point which existed only for Indian tennis players. And tennis leagues which in the past like IPTL and CTL had many many international players and they were of a different scale. So I felt at that point of time that there was a gap between the Indian players also, who were top-ranked singles and doubles players, in the junior level, ex-professional players…I thought there should be some format where you could create and get all these players together in one single format. Because I myself played in the ITF senior circuit as well. And I noticed that there was no event that happened together for all these players. It’s an individual sport and everyone plays in different parts of the country or the world but this one event can bring all these players together and I felt it would be a great concept. And here we are four years down the line with 64 players, which includes players from all age groups with the youngsters of them being someone who is just 16 years old, and then there is someone who is above 50. That is how it all started in the initial stage.
Q) 2018 was when you started this. That decade saw few other league-style tennis events coming up in India. The IPLT being the most famous of them. But all ceased to exist after a few years. What is something different that you aim to achieve through PTL?
I just wanted to do something for the Indian players and most of them, I know them personally and they are all really good players. They felt they needed a platform to be showcased as well and I feel PTL is a great platform in that way where the Indian audience, the Delhi audience know that these players are playing and see some good quality of tennis and players getting together at the highest level.
Q) This will be the fourth season of the PTL. How have things been in terms of the league over the four seasons, about the popularity of it both among fans and players?
The first season was good. The second season was even more popular. In the third season, because of the pandemic, we couldn’t get that many audiences. But this season will be the biggest season ever. We have the maximum number of players, 64 players across all the teams. We also have all the top players coming this time, Matthew Ebden is among them, who won the 2022 Wimbledon (doubles). So things have changed. The gravity of the event has become much bigger this time. We are also in touch with a lot of tennis academies, clubs and institutions. We are doing a lot of social-media publicity and marketing to ensure that we have reached the maximum audience. Tennis is popular in the country and in the city as well. We just had the Davis Cup in March this year and it had a packed audience when India was playing Denmark. So that is the whole idea around it, that you don’t watch a tennis match, you also have quality time with your friends and family. We also kind of changed the format of the event as well. We created a points structure. In total there will be nine matches in a tie and every match is ranging from 15 to 30 points. Two teams with the most points at the end of the group stage will head to the semis. Similarly, the semis and the final will be decided on the number of points collected and not the matches won. A lot of innovations have been done, It has become popular among fans and this year we had a lot of players reaching out to us to play in the PTL. In the past, we didn’t have that. It just shows the excitement among people.
Q) What have been some of the challenges you have come across?
Challenges were of course there but thankfully the players have been very supportive to the league as well. It’s always a challenge to get things in order, from players to team owners to getting audiences and sponsors. There is a challenge on every front, but people who have supported the league in terms of the players and the team owners have all been phenomenal for us. That is why we are in season four. Seven out of the eight team owners are back with us from last season which is a big support for us and helps us sort of do this league.
Q) How do you think that a league like PTL can benefit India tennis, it’s development?
It helps the ecosystem of the sport. I feel a league like this will encourage more people to watch the sport, and play the sport. Also for the junior players, when they see there is an opportunity to play in a league in the future, they get attracted and then they get noticed by prospective sponsors. Plus every team has two mentors and coaching staff involved and hence it adds to the ecosystem of the sport.
Q) You mentioned earlier that players have been reaching out to you. So how are they chosen as part of the league?
We look at the ranking of the players – the ATP, WTA, ITF junior rankings – we also conduct a ‘Road to PTL’ event where young players – who are below the age of 25 for men and 21 for women – can participate and get selected. Ee conducted one in Delhi and one in Bangalore. Most of the players in PTL are the top-ranked players themselves.
Q) So tell us the story of Matthew Ebden in PTL 4
He has been to India before. And he is a big name in the world of tennis. And we wanted to add some more international angles to the event as well. Adding Ebden to the event, a Wimbledon champion would make the league even more popular. I have known him before. So I reached out to him to become a part of the league and felt that getting him involved in the league would add much more value to the league as well and attract more and more people. It makes it a more wholesome league as well.
He will be the first international men’s player at the event. There were two international women’s players in the past as well but not of this level.
Q) Will you also be part of the event as a player?
Yes. I will be participating as a player in the ex-pro category for the Delhi Crusaders.
When I’m on the court, I will be giving my 100 per cent as a player for the team at that moment. That is how I’m naturally built. As far as PTL is concerned, I have a great team of people working with me, we have a great support staff as well. We have top-of-the-line people, umpires, referees and a proper managing structure which is going to be managing along with me.
Q) What do you see as the future of PTL?
We want to make it even larger, get more and more Indian players involved in this, more international players and have more teams as well. We also want to take to smaller towns, have a regional set-up and have smaller PTLs as well in districts where winners could get selected into the main PTL. That is how we see it. We do want a foreign presence, but the focus is and will remain on getting more and more Indian players so that they get more visibility.
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