Universal Tennis Rating has created two new events to help kickstart live tennis during the coronavirus shutdown, both of them four-player round-robin exhibitions that will be played on a private court in West Palm Beach, Florida, with a skeleton staff and enhanced safety precautions -- but no spectators.
The UTR Pro Match Series exhibition for men will take place May 8-10, with a women's event to follow on May 22-24. Both events will offer prize money, and will be broadcast live on TennisChannel. Due partly to ongoing travel restrictions, six of the eight competitors will be from the U.S.
The men's event features No. 8 ranked Matteo Berrettini of Italy, along with No. 39 Reilly Opelka, No. 55 Tennys Sandgren and No. 57 Tommy Paul. The top-ranked woman is No. 19 Alison Riske, who will be joined by No. 28 Amanda Anisimova, No. 51 Danielle Collins and Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic, who is No. 56.
The players will wear headphones on changeovers, to enable them to communicate with the commentators who will call the matches from a studio in Los Angeles. According to Bob Whyley, senior vice-president of production for TennisChannel, a number of guests, including Andy Roddick, will join the broadcast via Skype.
The first live tennis event since the tours shut down in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak is an ongoing, live-streamed eight-man exhibition taking place at a tennis academy in Germany. The top attraction there is Dustin Brown, an ATP pro who has a Wimbledon upset of Rafael Nadal on his resume but who is presently ranked No. 239.
"I miss the competition aspect of sports," Sandgren, an Australian Open quarterfinalist told ESPN.com. "Like most other guys I want to compete, whether it's in a Grand Slam stadium or on a private court somewhere."
For now, it will be the latter for Sandgren and others. There are signs that manageable pop-up events like this one will fill the gap left by canceled, official ATP and WTA tournaments as the tours wait out the pandemic.
UTR is an increasingly popular, web-based global enterprise that, among other things, assigns a numerical rating similar to golf's handicap to players based on their results. It is blind to age, gender and even professional or amateur status -- the rating of any player registered with UTR is based on his or her performance against any other UTR rated player.
The UTR rating is generated by a sophisticated algorithm that factors in both score and quality of opponent. UTR even rates professional players based on their results in tournaments, producing ratings that are similar, but not always identical, to the official ATP and WTA rankings. Those rankings are determined by points that players earn at tournaments, depending on how far they penetrated the draw regardless of opponents or scores. Novak Djokovic currently leads all players with a UTR ranking of 16.18; Rafael Nadal is second at 16.17.