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Slammers’ new boss vows to do more

SINGAPORE — The second season of International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) that kicks off on Dec 8 in Japan and ends on Dec 20 in Singapore will not only see a revamped line-up for the Singapore Slammers led by world No 1 Novak Djokovic, but also new franchise owners who have plans to develop local tennis.

Joining world No 1 Novak Djokovic (picture) on the Slammers roster are former world No 1 Carlos Moya of Spain, Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, women’s No 12 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, Brazilian Marcelo Melo and Australian Nick Kyrgios. Photo: Getty Images

Joining world No 1 Novak Djokovic (picture) on the Slammers roster are former world No 1 Carlos Moya of Spain, Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, women’s No 12 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, Brazilian Marcelo Melo and Australian Nick Kyrgios. Photo: Getty Images

SINGAPORE — The second season of International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) that kicks off on Dec 8 in Japan and ends on Dec 20 in Singapore will not only see a revamped line-up for the Singapore Slammers led by world No 1 Novak Djokovic, but also new franchise owners who have plans to develop local tennis.

The new investors are Singapore-based UD Trading Group Holding, which replace a group of businessmen from India and Dubai, headed by cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar, who last year claimed they had a stake worth US$25 million (S$34.2 million) in the franchise.

Prateek Gupta, chairman of UD Group, said the trading firm is committed to developing the sport here. “We don’t know how much money (the previous owners) made or if they did,” he said. “But as far as we know, we are here to invest money into the sport and the country, and grow it as a community and an ecosystem around this place. For us, the Slammers is an asset. It is an asset that not necessarily will yield money because we are not in it for the money, but to commit to the community.”

He said there is an element of branding for UD in taking over the Slammers, but the company are investing it to connect with the community and because they love the sport.

The opportunity to acquire the Slammers franchise, added UD Trading managing director Thomas J McMahon, came about amid talks last year by IPTL boss Mahesh Bhupathi, a former world No 1 doubles player, to expand the league.

“None of (the previous Slammers owners) were local, and in the course of those talks there was another franchise opportunity, and they (Gavaskar and partners) felt ‘Oh gee, maybe we could put the Slammers in stronger hands’,” said McMahon.

“That was Mahesh’s feelings also, and he had a discussion with us about it as we are a Singapore-based company.”

UD have yet to draw up its long-term plans for tennis here, but Gupta said they plan reach out to schools and clubs through the Singapore Tennis Association (STA) to train young players. The goal, said Gupta, is to help the STA raise tennis players through its excellence programme.

“This is a niche we would like to fill,” he said.

Despite its popularity, tennis has not produced medals for Singapore at any major meet since the 1995 SEA Games, when the men’s team won bronze. At the recent SEA Games held here, tennis was one of three sports — alongside football and petanque — that did not contribute any medals to Team Singapore’s record haul of 84 gold, 73 silver and 102 bronze medals.

The national sports association gets about S$400,000 a year in funding from Sport Singapore and newly-elected STA president Nicholas Lim said they hope to ride on UD’s Slammers to raise sponsorship to fund their excellence programmes.

Said Lim: “This is also a great opportunity to promote tennis among the younger players because many of them drop out, as they don’t see it as a viable career. There is a possibility we could work with UD to get the Slammers players to hold talks with these youngsters to inspire them to take up the sport full-time.”

Joining Djokovic on the Slammers roster are former world No 1 Carlos Moya of Spain, Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, women’s No 12 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, Brazilian Marcelo Melo and Australian Nick Kyrgios, the sole survivor of last year’s line-up. Top players from the men’s and women’s tennis tours have also signed on this year, and fans can catch Rafael Nadal (Indian Aces), Roger Federer (UAE Royals), world No 1 Serena Williams, and Kei Nishikori (Japan Warriors).

Japan has also been added to the calendar that also includes the Philippines, India and the UAE. Each country will also be represented by their respective teams, and while they will continue to fight for league points, there is one change to the format. The top two teams will fight it out to decide the winners in the final, which will be staged in Singapore.

Said Bhupathi: “Last year was a learning curve for us, but at the same time there were a lot of people who embraced the format and the players loved it.

“Last year, we had the league format where the team that finished on top were declared the winners. This year, the broadcasters in general wanted to see a final match and this is the only major change we have.”

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