Tennis: Slammers co-owner Gavaskar targets S'porean for IPTL team

Franchise owners in the inaugural four-team International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) may have the option to move their teams to other cities, but the Singapore Slammers co-owner Sunil Gavaskar wants to keep his team in the Republic for the long term.

And the Indian cricket legend hopes that a Singaporean can play for the Slammers in the league in the near future.

"We are hoping that in four or five years, we will have someone from Singapore taking the world of tennis by storm and be part of the Singapore Slammers," said the 65-year-old Gavaskar at the Marina Bay Financial Centre yesterday.

"That is a genuine thing, I am not saying it just for the sake of media consumption, I really, really hope it (IPTL) will excite young players here and, in four to five years, we can have a Singapore born-and-bred player to play for us."

"That will give me the biggest kick," added Gavaskar, who is keen to keep the Slammers in Singapore because of the "wonderful" facilities that the country offers.

The Slammers received a boost yesterday when they confirmed DBS Bank as their team sponsor, for an undisclosed sum of money, in the inaugural season, which starts in Philippines on Nov 28.

The Singapore Indoor Stadium will host the second leg rom Dec 2 to 4, with the Singapore team headlined by women's world No. 1 Serena Williams and former men's world No. 1 Andre Agassi.

The series moves to India, and the inaugural season ends in the United Arab Emirates.

DBS Bank Group CEO Piyush Gupta says he receives a lot of proposals to sponsor various events, but found the IPTL a good fit for the bank's brand.

He said: "Everyone asks me to do the Singapore golf open, for example. When we look for stuff to do, I am actually looking for things that go back to the kind of brand we want to be... something with a twist, something quirky and different."

UNUSUAL TOURNAMENT

"The IPTL is actually quite an unusual tournament that is a mix of sports and entertainment," added Gupta, who is hopeful that the Singapore event can grow into one that rivals the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.

"It (Singapore Slammers) appeals to us because it relates extremely well to what we, at DBS, are trying to do - to be innovative, path-breaking, and to be fun and joyful in what we do."

As part of the partnership, DBS and POSB customers will enjoy discounts off tickets for the Singapore event, while the bank is also planning initiatives for its customers and employees, as well as corporate social responsibility programmes.

"There will be opportunities to interact with the Singapore Slammers players, creating an interest and awareness of the game far greater than it has been so far in Singapore," said Gavaskar, who added that programmes involving schools and clubs are in the pipeline next year.

Having been involved in the inception of cricket's Indian Premier League (IPL) - which IPTL adapts its concept from - in 2008, Gavaskar is confident that the IPTL will take off.

He said: "There was nervousness (with the inception of the IPL) because we didn't know how it would work, and how the cricket-loving public will react. But it took off from the first match itself."

"I am a lot less nervous for the IPTL because the number of big names we have here is far greater than we did in the IPL."

"We have the creme de la creme playing in our league."

Bhupathi: IPTL is the gold class

Others may come, but we are still the "gold class" tournament.

That was what International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) founder Mahesh Bhupathi said, when asked about the formation of other tennis leagues with a similar concept.

On the sidelines of a tie-up between DBS Bank and the Singapore Slammers yesterday, Bhupathi said: "We are just focused on executing our (tournament) and, as far as tennis leagues go, we feel we are the gold class.

"We have the best players in the world and it's the players who drive these (tournaments).

"It's not easy unless you have the right players to pull the interest and... the excitement."

Into its first season, the IPTL is a mixed-team competition that features a shorter and quicker format, with new rules such as a shot clock, a "power point", and shoot-outs.

The tournament will be played in four countries - the Philippines, Singapore, India and the United Arab Emirates - with top current and former stars such as Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi featuring for the four teams.

Bhupathi may have a point on the draw of the star power.

Launched on Monday, the six-team Champions Tennis League, which is based in India, is reportedly failing to attract crowds, despite featuring local heroes such as Leander Paes and international stars such as Martina Hingis and Martina Navratilova, and sporting a mixed-team format similar to the IPTL.

But it seems that the IPTL has no such problems, with the DBS Singapore Slammers CEO Vikas Gehlot saying that sales for the Singapore event, at the 12,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium from Dec 2 to 4, are doing well.

He said: "Things are gearing up well; the first day (of competition) is close to being sold out, and things are tracking well for the second and third days."

Bhupathi added: "Unfortunately for other leagues, we've got the best players in the world playing for ours. So, from our perspective, we are very happy."

sayheng@sph.com.sg

This article was first published on Nov 21, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.