Matteo ‘The Hammer’ Berrettini snatched the Ultimate Tennis Showdown title on Sunday in the south of France, outlasting Stefanos ‘The Greek God’ Tsitsipas in the final after saving 2 match points in sudden-death to capture the experimental invitational.
I won two crazy matches [against Gasquet and Tsitsipas], two sudden-death. I’m really exhausted, I’m really tired, but I really enjoyed this format. I think a couple of members of family died from a heart attack, for sure. Mateo Berrettini
Berrettini had a busy weekend, having played two THIEMs7 matches in Austria on Saturday before jetting south for the final day on the UTS at the Patrick Moroutoglou Academy near Nice.
“One of the biggest qualities a tennis player can have is the ability to adapt,” Berrettini said. “I think I did a good job doing that this week.”
UTS, the brainchild of the French guru who famously coaches Serena Williams and a host of other players, featured strict health protocols designed to ensure safe competition during the coronavirus pandemic.
Matches were played without spectators, while players underwent coronavirus testing on arrival at the academy and maintained physical distancing through measures such as racket taps instead of handshakes.
The UTS began a month ago, with players contesting 2 matches each weekend to determine the Final Four that would compete in the semi-finals.
The format is unique in that each match comprises of 4 x 10-minute quarters, with players serving twice alternatively.
It is inspired by e-sports and aimed at attracting an entirely new audience to the game, something the organisers claim to have achieved with an estimated 50% of viewers not having previously watched tennis before.
Mouratoglou says he is satisfied with how it has all gone because it has been endorsed by those who have taken part.
“We are satisfied because it was a great challenge,” he told UbiTennis in a video chat. “We started from zero during the confinement; it was just an idea.
“Then suddenly we decided to make this idea a reality. We’ve been broadcasting in more than 100 countries.
“I really like the show [UTS] but it is not about me, it is about the players. So I’m happy because the players really enjoyed playing it.”
Tsitsipas, the World No 6, was the in-form player of the competition, winning 8 of his 9 matches, including one over Berrettini the previous weekend and breezing past Belgium’s David ‘The Wall’ Goffin to reach the final.
Berrettini was forced to come through a sudden-death scenario against Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the other semi-final and, given the 4-match scenario he faced over the weekend, ‘The Greek God’ was certainly the favourite in the final.
Against the odds, however, the Italian won the first 2 quarters against Tsitsipas, and came close to an unassailable 3-0 lead when he led the 3rd quarter, 4-0, but the Greek recovered, and soon scores were locked at 12-12.
The final match could not really have been closer from the get-go, tied at 15 points a piece with no time remaining in the first quarter when Berrettini struck huge forehands to pocket it.
The rapid-paced format takes a physical toll on competitors, and both were drenched in sweat into the 2nd quarter, in which Berrettini executed his ‘Winner +3’ UTS card, which awards 3 points for a clean winner.
Tsitsipas turned the tide with a crucial second serve ace while using his own ‘+3’ card at 2 quarters down and trailing the 3rd by 0-4.
Tied at 12 points with just 20 seconds on the clock, ‘The Greek God’ produced a stunning crosscourt backhand pass and snagged the 3rd quarter when Berrettini double-faulted on the final point.
“It was very close,” Berrettini said. “It was all on details. I just need to hold tight in there. It’s going to come, just patience, persistence. I need to keep my calm. I have to feel spiritual today with myself.”
Berrettini looked rattled at the start of the 4th, as Tsitsipas took advantage, going up 6-2 and using his ‘steal serve’ card to win 6 points in a row to storm clear and force sudden-death.
It could not have been more tense, Tsitsipas beginning with an ace to earn match point but Berrettini won the next point with a good forehand.
‘The Greek God’ led again, 2-1, and on the 4th point, had a golden chance to seal it, only to frame a forehand pass, and allowing the Italian to put away the volley.
‘The Hammer’ closed out the match with a brilliant running crosscourt forehand passing shot.
“I won two crazy matches [against Gasquet and Tsitsipas], two sudden-death,” Berrettini said. “I’m really exhausted, I’m really tired, but I really enjoyed this format.
“I think a couple of members of family died from a heart attack, for sure.”
Tsitsipas’ missed his chances and it had all come down to a couple of points that favoured Berrettini.
“Yeah, it’s a big bummer,” the Greek said. “He served well [on the winner x 3], you can’t really do anything. I was up in the score all the time by a big margin.”
The format certainly makes for exciting viewing but whether this remains true to the sport of tennis is open to debate.
“I guess that was the secret, serving well on the important moments,” the Italian observed. “I think this format is going to help me going forward, you have to be there for every point.
Mouratoglou’s aim was to attract a younger and newer fan base to the sport, claiming that the average age of a tennis fan is 61, a number that many question.
“The goal was to bring new people to tennis and I can say that 50% of our audience were previously not watching tennis,” he said. “Secondly, we wanted to bring younger fans because the average age of a tennis fan is getting older. Our average age is 30-year-old.”
The audience took the form of subscribers to social media accounts and the streaming platform utslive.tv, as well as viewers on Eurosport, Claro Tennis and the Tennis Channel, but the figures provided are based on an analysis of social media users and a questionnaire sent to ‘a majority’ of their subscribers.
“First of all we don’t give these figures [concerning subscribers],” added Mouratoglou. “I’m not able to give them to you but I’m able to say something about the typology of fans that was following us.
“The reach on TV was around 20 million, but platform figures are not public.”
Criticised about wishing to change the sport, Mouratoglou argues that he is exploring ways of attracting more people to the sport with a shorter format, although he does not think the rules on the ATP and WTA Tour’s should be changed because tennis fans are ‘very conservative.’
“I think they [ATP/WTA] are doing a great job because the tennis fans are very loyal and they have been able to keep them for a long time,” he explained.
“I don’t think they should change anything because tennis fans are very conservative and wouldn’t be happy. I’m not criticising them at all, but what I am just saying is that the average age of a tennis fan is getting older, it’s a fact. It’s not just tennis, it is sport in general.”
He is now apparently planning a second UTS edition that will also feature female players.
“We are going to do it again. It’s not completely set yet so I can’t say much,” he reveals. “The goal is to also bring women into the event. We are trying to arrange it to take place before the US Open.
“The most important thing is that the UTS act as a compliment to the Tours and both can work alongside each other.
“Of course, there are a lot of things to improve but for a start from zero I think it is not too bad,” he concluded.
- Stefanos ‘The Greek God’ Tsitsipas d David ‘The Wall’ Goffin, 3-0: 15-11, 13-11, 13-12
- Mateo ‘The Hammer’ Berrettini d Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet, 3-2: 21-8, 12-14, 16-12, 10-13 [2-1]
- Berrettini d Tsitsipas, 3-2: 16-15, 15-12, 12-14, 8-15, [3-2]