MILAN • The Next Gen ATP Finals delivered all the promised drama even before a ball was hit yesterday, with organisers issuing grovelling apologies after a draw ceremony was blasted as "sexist".
The inaugural Under-21 version of the ATP World Tour Finals started yesterday in Milan, bringing together emerging stars tipped to rival Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
But a social media storm was whipped up after Sunday's draw ceremony, when the players had to choose female models who had the letter "A" or "B" hidden on their bodies, to determine the round-robin group in which they would play.
South Korean player Chung Hyeon looked visibly embarrassed as he was asked to pull off a female model's glove with his teeth during an evening designed as a tribute to Milan's fashion industry.
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and tournament sponsor Red Bull said in a statement on Monday: "ATP and Red Bull apologise for the offence caused by the draw ceremony for the Next Gen ATP Finals.
"The intention was to integrate Milan's rich heritage as one of the fashion capitals of the world.
"However, our execution of the proceedings was in poor taste and unacceptable.
"We deeply regret this and will ensure that there is no repeat of anything like it in the future."
ATP executive president Chris Kermode also apologised on Monday, describing the ceremony as "personally disrespectful".
"It's unfair and unreasonable we put these guys out there," he stepped in to add when the eight players were questioned.
"It wasn't their choice, it's in no way to do with any of the players here tonight."
French player Alize Cornet wrote on her Twitter account, "Good job @ATPWorldTour Supposed to be a futurist event right? #backtozero", as Judy Murray, mother of former men's No. 1 Andy, tweeted "awful".
Kermode said that he hoped that the focus would be on the planned innovations which would be tested during the five-day tournament including shorter sets, no-ad scoring, a no-let rule and electronic line calls to increase the pace of play.
"I've receive a huge amount of mixed response. We're not trying to 'mess with the game of tennis' but to try things that in five to 10 years, we might eventually integrate into the sport," he said.
"We want - while the sport is in the best place it has ever been - to try to look towards innovating for the future.
"These guys are the future and they're going to be here for a long time."
Daniil Medvedev yesterday defeated fellow Russian Karen Khachanov 2-4, 4-3 (8-6), 4-3 (7-3), 4-2 in the opener of the tournament, which trialled a 25-second shot clock and sudden-death deuce points among other rule tweaks.
The best-of-five-sets match lasted just 1hr 50min.
NEXT GEN ATP FINALS
Day 2: StarHub Ch201, 9pm & tomorrow, 2.30am