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Serena Williams’ celebrated coach, Patrick Mouratoglou told CNBC that tennis may not be the same after the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mouratoglou said players were struggling to stay motivated because they don’t know when they will be able to play official matches again.
“It’s an extremely difficult period. What we know is that probably the face of tennis post Covid-19 will not be the same anymore. The economic crisis probably is going to strike us really hard. All the business in general, but also the tennis business,” he said.
The sport’s top governing bodies, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), have suspended their seasons until at least August. A decision by the U.S. Tennis Association on whether to hold the U.S. Open in late August is expected soon.
During the global lockdown response to Covid-19, Mouratoglou created the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS), a brand new tennis league which he hopes will revolutionize the sport and attract younger fans. The founder of the Mouratoglou Academy said he felt tennis had been in “a difficult situation” for several years due to the demographic of fans.
“I know it doesn’t look like that because we have unbelievable champions, we have great tournaments, but if you look more in detail, you realize that the average age of the tennis fan is 61 years old, which is quite old for a sport,” he said.
“We are literally living on the fan base that has been created in the 70s and the 80s,” he added.
The influential coach says the success of the sport in that era was due to the amount of emotion players shared. He said today’s strict code of conduct means many players all have the same attitude and are difficult to identify on court.
“The reason why people watch sport is to feel something. They want to feel emotions. So if the players don’t give emotions, it’s more difficult to get into it,” he said.
The new UTS format, which takes place over five weekends from June 13, will encourage players to express emotion through lighter conduct rules. Matches will be shorter and the at-home audience can hear live coach chats and interact with players in real time.
Mouratoglou told CNBC he had held discussions with ATP and WTA about the new league, who said they would be open to further talks if it works. “I’m not trying to be against anybody. I’m doing this for tennis. I think tennis needs to be reinvented. I think there is a space for two different tours. This exists in many other sports,” he said.
The coach and entrepreneur also told CNBC that his tennis prodigy Coco Gauff was “unique,” and commented on her recent reaction to the death of George Floyd, the African-American man who died while in the custody of the Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death, which was filmed, sparked anti-racism protests and Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the U.S. and around the world.
“What happened lately with those terrible events in the U.S. and the fact that at 16 years old she’s able to go there and make speeches and to support the black community going through all those difficult times, it just shows that she’s something else, really,” he said.
Mouratoglou, who first partnered with U.S. tennis superstar Serena Williams in 2012, apologized that due to the short time turnaround and initial scale of the event, women won’t be able to take part in the first UTS, but said that will happen soon. He said Williams was very supportive of the new league and had even given him some ideas. “She’s pushing me to bring onboard women as early as possible,” he said.