The ‘Indian’ aspect of the Coca-Cola IPTL

The first phase of Coca-Cola IPTL tickets in India were sold out within 20 minutes of sale. This epitomizes what the ‘Happiness Open’ has achieved till date.

It is raining sports leagues in India. A trend that started with the cricket has now gathered momentum and almost every sport with a following in India has a league of its own.

The debatable question, however, is whether these leagues – which often play to packed houses – bring about a fundamental transformation in the Indian sporting scene. Will we see a serious spurt in youngsters playing tennis as a result of Coca-Cola IPTL?

Mahesh Bhupathi’s brainchild has not only become a hot topic among the Indian sport fraternity but has also created a drive globally, thus creating a newfound love for tennis in the subcontinent. The idea was simple –the tournament would involve a league-type competition between city franchises in the country. The objective was pretty straightforward – to introduce a new, short and more engrossing form of tennis.

“I think we’re focusing on the experience. So you’re going to see men, women and legends, you’re going to have music, giveaways, cheerleaders,” Bhupathi said in an interview, as reported by The National. “Hopefully the kids will have fun, the parents will have fun and the grandparents will have fun, that’s our goal.”

It’s not a mystery so as to why tennis isn’t very popular in the country. The fact remains that the lack of ATP and WTA tours in the country, let aside Grand Slams, is the root cause of this. Lack of exposure and a dearth of exhibition tennis have created a bridge not only for viewers, but also for prospective youngsters wanting to make it big in this field.

“There’s a lot of intrigue, there’s a lot of excitement, there’s a lot of skepticism. Obviously we feel like the format should work,” Bhupathi further said in the interview. He hopes the tournament will grow from four to eight teams in the Asian region by 2020, with China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Japan among potential destinations.

Seeing the world’s best on home soil is expected to encourage the upwardly mobile Indian youth to take to the sport, which already has a reasonable fan base in the country thanks to the successes of Leander Paes, Bhupathi himself, Rohan Bopanna, Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman. This is the first time that Indians fans will be able to witness the game live and thoroughly get entertained by a new genre of tennis, and it’s no surprise that everyone is curious about it.

Of course, tennis as a sport is quite unlike cricket and a few others at which Indians have traditionally excelled. The athleticism and fitness levels required to seriously take up tennis are far higher than most other sports – one look at the lung-busting rallies that the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray regularly engage in, and you know that these athletes represent the pinnacle of human physicality. So the growth of tennis in India could very well herald a health and fitness revolution in the country too.

The Coca-Cola IPTL may not guarantee a dramatic transformation in Indian tennis but without a doubt, it is a step forward. Considering the magnitude at which this event is taking place, it will provide great impetus to the youngsters of today who will get inspired to take up the sport. But on the pragmatic side of things, one should not expect anything stupendous out of one season; instead, we can hope for a complete turnaround within 4-5 seasons, over the next few years.

As the Coca-Cola IPTL enters its third leg in New Delhi, the highly anticipated clashes are pulling spectators from far and wide to witness the spectacle. The large crowds, incessant cheering and remarkable plaudits are what constitute the edge that this event will have over other franchise-based junctures in India.

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