Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou planning ‘risk-free’ tennis tournament in May

Getting live tennis back on TV and fighting for a more equal distribution of wealth in the sport are two subjects that Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou has been thinking a lot about during lockdown.  

Professional tennis has been on hold since March due to coronavirus but he’s come up with the ambitious project of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) to get the tennis ball rolling again – real matches, top players and prize money, but there’ll be one major difference to a regular tour event.

“It’s a tournament without a crowd,” Mouratoglou told Sky Sports News. “We don’t want to take a risk with COVID-19 but it will be live.”

“We’re going to make sure we take no risks with the players and staff we’ve thought of the whole tournament with distance and all the requirements we’re supposed to take into consideration.

“It’s every weekend for five weekends in a row and it’s by invitation at the moment. We have confirmation of three already, David Goffin, Benoit Paire and Alexei Popyrin, but we’re discussing with the top ones and we’re going to get answers very soon.”

The venue for the matches will be Mouratoglou’s own academy just outside Nice, France, with the tournament starting on May 16, five days after the country’s lockdown is scheduled to be lifted.

Mouratoglou is aware that – to begin with – travel restrictions will result in a reliance on local talent, but luckily for him, neighbouring Monaco just happens to be home to some of the best tennis players in the world.

“Even if we focus on the players in the region we have enough,” Mouratoglou said. “We have had a lot of players who want to play. Players really want to play matches, they need to make some money. And this is a new format, completely modern, we want to be attractive to a younger audience.”

“One of the goals is to have more emotion more passion on the tennis court. Players have passion but they’re not allowed to show it otherwise they get penalised. I think this should change. I want players to be open to discussion at changeovers either with the host of with the fans directly through a headset and the code of conduct is going to be much lighter, it’s not that I want them to swear but I want them to show emotion.

“I came to tennis in the ’80s when you had [John] McEnroe and [Jimmy] Connors who were very expressive and that’s what made tennis fun at that time.”

Prize money distribution ‘not alright’

But this is also about sharing out the prize money in a fairer way – Mouratoglou recently wrote an open letter to the top players and governing bodies urging them to help those further down the rankings.

“No one’s addressing the problem that players in the top 100 are making so much more money than the people below the top 100,” said Mouratoglou, who has been part of 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams’ coaching team since 2012.

“I have no problem that the best players in the world make much more than the others – that’s alright. But it’s not alright that a player who is among the best 200 players on the planet cannot make a living, while others are making so much money.

“This money needs to be given to players in a much more equal way, it’s something I want to change and UTS is going to permit that. We have only top players for the first one but early on we will bring in players beyond the top 100 and they’re going to compete with the best players in the world and share the money in a way that is much more reasonable.”

World No 1 Novak Djokovic said over the weekend that he has been in conversation with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer over trying to raise up to £3.6m to help lower-ranked players during the suspension, but Mouratoglou wants to ensure this isn’t just a conversation during the pandemic, but also in the future.

He added: “We have to realise that the players beyond the top 100 don’t have a pound on the side so how do they live at the moment? It’s not a job. We can’t let them down. We have to find a way to save them, we need those players without them there is no tennis. They are not the ones we see on TV but they make tennis what it is.”

Both the men’s and women’s tours are suspended until July 13, while the pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of this year’s Wimbledon, and the French Open has been pushed back to September – the same month that the US Open is scheduled for.

Mouratoglou sees his new project as a way for players to get match fitness back before the tour resumes.

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