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AUSTRALIAN OPEN


January 21, 2014


Mahesh Bhupathi

Lleyton Hewitt

Morgan Menahem


MELBOURNE, VICTORIA

DARREN PEARCE:テつ Welcome, everyone.テつ We have Morgan Manahem, Mahesh Bhupathi and Lleyton Hewitt.テつ We'll start with a statement from Mahesh followed by questions.
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone for coming.テつ I think earlier this year at the end of May we announced the concept of trying to start a tennis league in Asia.テつ Today we're here to kind of take the next step and announce a few more of the stakeholders in the form of the team owners, the cities, the day that the player draft will take place, and of course the dates of the competition.
I'm not sure if the press release has been circulated, but we're happy to take questions.
Obviously when we started with the announcement in May, there was a lot of moving parts, but we've done a lot of work and are here to take your questions.

Q.テつ Can you give us some idea of some of the players?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Look, we've got a pretty exciting player field.テつ We are going to announce that in a couple of weeks.テつ We're in the middle of one of the biggest tournaments in the year.テつ We don't want to distract from that.
Rest assured, the player field is very exciting.テつ Lleyton can talk from his perspective being a player.
LLEYTON HEWITT:テつ Obviously I'm excited to be a part of it.テつ For me when I first heard about it the start of the year, I thought it was a fantastic concept.テつ I've obviously witnessed the Twenty20 Cricket really explode as well.
This has been that format where we get to the opportunity to play in a close‑knit team, which is close to my heart, growing up with Australian football and team sports.テつ That's one thing lacking in tennis.テつ We don't get the opportunity to participate in a team.テつ I look forward to that.
Obviously shorter sets where we know the timeframe as well.テつ I love the idea as a current player, the opportunity of playing with legends as well on your team, as well as the female aspect from the women's circuit.
I get the opportunity to play singles and doubles, as well.テつ For me, it's a great fit.テつ A lot of the talk in the locker room is very positive, as well.テつ I have no doubt there's going to be a lot of big names released in the next couple of weeks to the next month or so.
I'm really looking forward to it happening at the end of the year.

Q.テつ Talking to the other top players, shared feelings?
LLEYTON HEWITT:テつ There's a lot of player interest, absolutely.テつ I think that's the best part about it.テつ I think there's going to be a very high‑quality player field involved.テつ I'm sure when it gets announced, there will be big signings at the time, which is great.
The concept of going into a draft, as well, is something I've seen a lot from the Australian Rules Football background, in the Indian Premier Cricket League as well.テつ It's a weird feeling because you don't know who is going to end up on your team.テつ I think it's good for the sport of tennis.
Especially for myself, playing in Asia is such a big part of the Australian Open, Australasia Grand Slam, expanding in that market is good for our sport.

Q.テつ Mahesh, what are the cities?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Mumbai.テつ We'll have a team in the Middle East.テつ We are negotiating with three different parties.テつ We will announce that.テつ And the draft is going to be March 2nd in Dubai.

Q.テつ Where do you have to fit it into the tennis calendar?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ The dates are November 28th to December 20th.

Q.テつ Lleyton, the dates work out well with the Australian summer season.テつ The players want that off‑season.テつ How do you tackle that?
LLEYTON HEWITT:テつ For me personally, I pick a schedule throughout the year that suits working into Grand Slams.テつ So for me to get quality matches in the month of December, sometimes it's very hard those first couple weeks going in before the Australian Open.テつ In a lot of ways it's huge positives.テつ The guys get great hit‑outs against quality players, but not quite as demanding because you don't have to play the full sets as well.テつ It's exciting for me in terms of that.テつ Training so much in November/December can get pretty wearing at times as well.

Q.テつ Are there any Chinese cities getting involved with negotiating to host this event?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Not in the first group of teams.テつ As we said before, we'd like to expand.テつ Ideally we'd like to get to 10 teams by 2020.テつ But not in the first group.

Q.テつ How many teams do you think there will be?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ It will be a minimum of five, maximum of six in the first go.

Q.テつ There's been talk of the large amounts of money to be earned.テつ Can you give us any sort of idea of the earning potential?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ I can't give you a specific idea.テつ I know each team has a salary cap of $10 million per team.テつ There is a salary minimum, as well, so they have to spend $4 million.

Q.テつ U.S. dollars?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Yes.

Q.テつ Lleyton, in the cricket we see a lot of no names that play in the IPL.テつ Will there be the opportunity for unknown players to come through or will it be all known players?
LLEYTON HEWITT:テつ I'd say the majority will be known players.テつ They're the players that people want to go out and see obviously.テつ I think that's the biggest thing for the event as well, for pumping up tennis in the Asia area.
Yeah, I have no doubt there's going to be a lot of quality players that are still real contenders at the Grand Slams, and I think it needs that.

Q.テつ Are you a stakeholder in the deal?
LLEYTON HEWITT:テつ I've committed to the whole year.テつ This is just the first period of everything for me.
Yeah, obviously for me personally, as I said, I like playing matches coming into Grand Slams.テつ I work my schedule around going out there and trying to perform at my best.テつ I think having a few matches under my belt will help that.
So for me it wasn't a big deal.テつ I'm in Australia anyway, so it fits in well.

Q.テつ Can you give us names of team owners or sponsors?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ We've got a decent PR plan leading up so there's constant announcements made.テつ The first one in the next two weeks will be the player field.テつ I think each owner wants to avail of their own PR because it's very city‑centric.テつ They want to make the big announcement themselves.テつ If I do it in a group, it will dilute them.
The draft is five weeks away, so we'll get to know everything within the next five weeks.

Q.テつ As far as the draft, is it everyone in a pool and you pick who you want?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ We have different categories.テつ Obviously there's current players, there's legends, icons.テつ We also have Morgan, our CEO, formulated a category 'future of tennis'.テつ We've thrown in a lot of so‑called stars of the future in there as well.テつ Hopefully all kind of comes into one package.

Q.テつ The players can set their pay?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ There is a benchmark to get into a certain category.テつ It's not a free‑for‑all.

Q.テつ Uniform surface?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Yes.テつ Same surface as what they're going to play in Australia.

Q.テつ How many members in a team, including both men and women?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ It's a minimum of six and a maximum of 10.

Q.テつ Men and women?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Yes.テつ They can break it up.テつ It's up to the owner how he wants to break that up.テつ They're allowed to have a minimum six members on their team and a maximum of 10.

Q.テつ Can you give us an idea what sort of broadcasting contracts you've been able to sign so far?
MORGAN MENAHEM:テつ We're working with MP & Silva.テつ We're obviously reaching out to the markets worldwide.テつ Same thing, in a couple weeks we're about to release a press statement on that as they're currently setting up the broadcast rights throughout the world.

Q.テつ Can you tell us how the format actually works.
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ It's five sets, men's singles, men's doubles, women's singles, mixed doubles, legends singles.テつ No particular order.テつ The home team gets to pick the order on the night of the match.

Q.テつ One set?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ One set, no‑ad scoring, tiebreaker at 5‑All.テつ The winning team is the one to wins the most number of games at the end of the day, not the number of sets.
MORGAN MENAHEM:テつ It's made for TV, three to three and a half hours, so you know when it ends.

Q.テつ Any particular criteria set for the cities you chose?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ From the league's point of view, the higher profile cities to start off the better.テつ I think we had a lot of initial interest from Tier B cities as well.
To get it off the ground with sponsors, broadcasters, players, where they want to play, it was key for us to get the highest profile cities possible.テつ We're happy with what we got done.

Q.テつ Is having a Team Australia ever going to be a possibility?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Not unless the players want to take eight‑hour flights back home‑and‑away constantly.

Q.テつ Lleyton, why is there a need for something like this?テつ You play all around the world as it is.
LLEYTON HEWITT:テつ For me, when it came up first, purely in Asia, which I think is a growing market as we all know, the events that they've put on as well, the Shanghai Masters has grown to one of the biggest events worldwide outside the Grand Slams.
Yeah, for me, coming from Australia, obviously having a lot of success in Asia in the past as well, I have a huge fan base in Asia, which is important for me. テつThat was one key aspect of me getting interested in the first place.
I just like the idea of playing with legends as well.テつ Some of the legends that have actually spoken about the possibility of playing this, it will be fantastic to play alongside them in a team format.
As I said earlier, I love playing in a team environment.テつ I enjoy that.テつ Traveling around and playing within that timeframe, it fits in well with me.

Q.テつ Mahesh, really the IPL, the cricket, has made a lot of money for a lot of people, entertains people.テつ The legacy for the game itself is something under debate.テつ Are you at all concerned an initiative like yours might end up having a negative impact on tennis?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ No.テつ I think we're hoping for the positive impact.テつ I think things are changing worldwide.テつ That's why IPL has been so successful.テつ Nothing will ever change the four pillars of our sport, which are the four Grand Slams.
I think the youth of this world are looking for something fun, innovative.テつ I think this format brings the biggest stars in the world, creating something new and fresh for tennis.

Q.テつ Speaking of Asia, Li Na and Nishikori holding the flag of Asian tennis, are you negotiating with their agents to have them participate in this event?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Yeah, we're in talks with everyone.テつ Like I said, for the Asian superstars especially it would be great if they can play in their home countries because they're already superstars there.テつ They'll drive the growth of the sport there.

Q.テつ How does this system work?テつ Is it a round robin system, knock‑out system, and how do you decide the winner?
MORGAN MENAHEM:テつ Each team plays against each other home‑and‑away.テつ It's the number of games that you win that makes the winner.テつ You could actually lose sets and still win depending on the score.

Q.テつ By points accumulated?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Yes.

Q.テつ What happens after the round robin?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ We'll have a champion.
MORGAN MENAHEM:テつ A final.テつ A grand final.

Q.テつ A lot of players complain about the amount of traveling they have to do around the world.テつ Will there be provision in the competition for some players to play for one team and only play in home matches and not travel across Asia?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ There is discussion.テつ Like I said, we have multiple categories in the player draft.テつ There's discussion possibly to make that exempt for the highest category we have.
But the fact of the matter is, like Lleyton said, players are free to choose where they want to play.テつ There is no compulsion to play.テつ We provided a platform which we think is exciting and will grow.テつ Luckily for us, I think most of them are very excited about it.

Q.テつ How have the ITF, ATP and WTA reacted?テつ Are they welcoming it?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Yeah, we've been in constant communication with them for over a year and a half now.テつ I'm sure they're going to put out statements.テつ They're aware of this.
From a players' perspective, players have been shouting about more prize money for a long time.テつ This is a very positive impact for players.

Q.テつ You said this is the sort of competition you think will appeal to young people around the world.テつ Do you feel so far maybe the traditional authorities in the game, the ATP and the WTA, haven't reacted to modern markets?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ Well, I think they're doing the best they can with the kind of structure they have to work within.
We don't have those restrictions and we're able to go out and find the best markets for tennis.テつ There's no doubt about it that Asia is a growing market.テつ We have three tournaments in China in a row this year.
We've done just that.テつ Hopefully it will be a success.

Q.テつ Prize money, will players get more money if they win or a salary?
MAHESH BHUPATHI:テつ I'm going to leave that to the owners and players to discuss by themselves.テつ I can't get involved in everything.
DARREN PEARCE:テつ Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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