NEW DELHI: Saturday. December 12. After two straight days of slim pickings in terms of fan involvement, the moment of truth for the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) had arrived. There was never any doubt that the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal clash would generate enough buzz — a plethora of celebrities were in attendance, alongside a healthy spectator turnout. However, the equation becomes messy as soon as one removes these two catalysts. Thursday and Friday stand out boldly as prime examples.
Last year, Nadal wasn’t there. But Federer and Novak Djokovic thrilled the capitall with a sublime display. This year the World No 1 gave the tourney a miss, but an event being headlined by two of greatest players in history will attract fans in any corner of the globe. What if all three sat out one year? What would happen to the IPTL?
Even the presence of Indian stalwarts like Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza has failed to get the seats packed. Even with Nadal’s presence on Thursday, the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium was around 30 per cent full. That’s ridiculous considering these guys usually play to packed arenas, even in exhibition events! What gives?
Even Paes agreed the sparse attendance was a bit surprising as so many Grand Slam winners were part of the league. “I’m happy to play in front of a crowd, no matter how big or small... that being said, it would have been magic if the stands were full,” he said on Thursday.
Maybe the ticket prices are to blame. From Rs 4,000 to Rs 48,000... that’s too huge a sum to ask of the common man for an event that doesn’t even qualify officially. Those with deep pockets can buy their share, but most of them sit in corporate boxes which don’t cost them a paisa.
When asked the same query on Friday, Bopanna too had no answer to this phenomenon had developed. But he remained optimistic about the league getting its share of love in the future. “Of course, we’d love to have a lot of people come support and watch us play. I don’t know why this is happening. It’s not easy to fill such a large stadium. It’s a work in progress. Players are also only just adapting to the league. I’m sure the fan count will pick us as they too will learn to embrace this format,” he said
IPTL mastermind Mahesh Bhupathi felt these challenges are always present across the world when one plays on weekdays. “Last year, two of the matches were on weekends, so that made a difference. We all knew that Federer-Nadal would draw out the crowd and there were over 13,000 people in there. Anytime that happens, it’s a good day.”