A crowd of 12,000 turned up at the Sydney Entertainment Centre last year to watch Roger Federer play Lleyton Hewitt. Photo: Tertius PickardTennis is in discussions with Channel Seven and Nine to stage a week-long Fast 4 tournament in Sydney to lure the likes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to the harbour city on a regular basis.
Fairfax Media can reveal plans are already in place at tennis headquarters in Melbourne to transform the Fast 4 concept into a team-based tournament that would be similar to the Hopman Cup and likely be held in Sydney in October or November every second year – potentially as early as 2017.
With the Sydney International falling behind most of the pre-n Open tournaments in the country, Tennis and Tennis NSW believe the shortened format of the sport could reinvigorate interest in Sydney, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas when cricket dominates television ratings.
“We are in conversations with the major networks to be part of a major Fast 4 tournament with the biggest stars in the world,” a Tennis official told Fairfax Media. “It’s unlikely to fit into the January schedule but we are looking at other times of the year to stage the tournament.”
Tennis has gained the interest of major broadcast networks around the world with the idea, which could run after the WTA and ATP world tour finals in November, and also be extended to include top female players like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
At present the only arena with a roof that would guarantee play is Allphones Arena, however with the state government proposing a 10,000-seat indoor stadium in the CBD, it’s likely to shift to the new facility if the tournament gets the green light.
Following the success of Roger Federer’s visit last year, the concept has been extended with Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils partnering up against ‘s Nick Kyrgios and Lleyton Hewitt at Allphones Arena on Monday night.
However, Tennis NSW boss Alistair MacDonald, one of the driving forces behind the campaign, believes it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the entertainment-packed version of the sport.
“I think as we test it, I wouldn’t rule out the opportunity to have an event here,” MacDonald said. “There’s a real opportunity to grow this concept and I think there’s a real opportunity for Sydney to own this. Sydney has locked it in for this year and next year and we’d like to grow that.
“The fans are looking for something like this – three hours of a tight contest and entertainment. And the players want to come to Sydney, we just have to give them an incentive to play here.”
The introduction of the International Tennis Premier League in Asia and the Middle East in 2014, as well as the interest in the Hopman Cup this year, has proven how successful team-based tournaments are in both attracting viewers as well as luring the top players in the world to play.
The Sydney International has been lacking star power for years, while the outdated facilities make it hard to compete with tournaments like the Brisbane International and Hopman Cup when it comes to attracting the big names.
A crowd of 12,000 turned up at the Sydney Entertainment Centre last year to watch Federer and Hewitt trial the Fast 4 version of the sport, with television audience peaking at over a million for Channel Nine’s coverage, which was broadcast to more than 150 countries around the world.
It was also trialled in Melbourne last year with Nadal and Fernando Verdasco, but it wasn’t as successful as Sydney, with only half the viewers tuning in.
This year Channel Seven has signed a one-year deal for the rights to the event, with another 11,000 expected at Sydney Olympic Park on Monday night to see take on the World team.
“I think tennis is primed for something a bit shorter,” MacDonald said. “It’s in experimenting mode to see what works and doesn’t work. We have three matches that will be about 45 minutes long. The way I look at it, when people are watching tennis, a lot of people watch the set from midway through – a bit like Test cricket being on in the background.
“There wouldn’t be too many homes in that wouldn’t have the tennis on at some point, which is great, but we think there’s a product people want to watch from start to finish knowing that it will finish and know it will be a contest from the minute they start hitting the ball.”
HOW FAST 4 WORKSFirst to 4 gamesTie-breaker at 3-3Play letsNo advantage scoringTwo sets and a Fast 4 tie-breaker if required.