MILAN • Men's tennis steps into the unknown today when the young guns expected to follow in the footsteps of the golden generation contest the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
But controversy has already hit after the draw party on Sunday night was branded as sexist by many in the tennis community while fans on Twitter called the proceedings "trashy", "depressing" and "shameful".
The eight-man, five-day tournament showcases exciting talents such as Canadian Denis Shapovalov, 18, and rising Russian trio Andrey Rublev, 20; Karen Khachanov, 21, and Daniil Medvedev, 21.
During the ceremony, each player took turns to pick a female model, each of whom had the letter "A" or "B" hidden on their body. That letter would then correspond to the round-robin group which the player would be in.
After a player chose his model, they walked down a catwalk arm in arm, with the woman then revealing the letter to the cameras.
The entire process made for uncomfortable viewing, with some players looking awkward on stage as the criticism followed almost immediately.
Former women's world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, who used to coach former top-ranked men's star Andy Murray, tweeted "Disgrace...".
Guide to the innovations
Like next week's ATP Finals in London, the tournament will feature two groups of four with round-robin action followed by the semi-finals and the final.
SCORING AND PLAY
All matches will be best-of-five sets but with sets played up to four games with a tiebreak at 3-3.
Sudden-death deuce points will add to the drama while on-court shot clocks will keep matches rattling along at a fast pace, with the 25-second rule rigidly enforced by the umpire.
There will also be no lets on serve - play will continue when a serve clips the tape and goes in. Players will also be able to communicate with their coaches via headsets at the end of each set.
The tournament will feature non-stop, on-site entertainment, including cutting-edge match production.
Fans will also be able to move freely around the stadium during play rather than having to wait until the change of ends to enter the stands.
The court will have no doubles lines, which will also enhance the visual effect for fans at the venue and watching on TV.
ELECTRONIC LINE CALLS
Line judges peering down the lines will be absent as computers make the calls.
The chair umpire will be the only match official on court with calls of "out" and "fault" being made by an "automated" voice.
Foot faults will be determined by an off-court official. There will be no Hawk-Eye reviews - a popular innovation in tennis.
The Next Gen ATP Finals, open to players aged 21 and under, will trial innovations aimed at "future-proofing" the sport to appeal to a new generation of fans.
German star Alexander Zverev, 20, is absent in Italy as he has qualified with the big boys for the following week's ATP Finals in London.
American Jack Sock earned the final spot in the British capital after he beat qualifier Filip Krajinovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 in the Paris Masters final on Sunday. He rose from 22nd to ninth in the world rankings yesterday and is the first American to reach the Tour Finals since Mardy Fish in 2011.
In the likes of Shapovalov, ranked No. 51 in the world, 45th-ranked Khachanov and Rublev, the highest-ranked at No. 37, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) has plenty of talent as it launches the Next Gen tournament.
The qualifiers appear happy to be "guinea pigs" for a new format featuring, among other things, short sets, on-court coaching, shot clocks and electronic line calls. But they are wary of turning their backs on tradition.
"I don't think this will be the future and I hope they don't change the rules because then they change the sport," Rublev, who claimed his first ATP title this year in Umag, Croatia, said.
American Jared Donaldson, 21, thinks some of the tweaks the ATP will trial could find their way to the main Tour. The world No. 55 said he likes the idea of shorter warm-ups, saying the five-minute knock-up players get before matches is too long and can turn off television viewers.
But the idea of replacing line judges with machines is a step too far, he believes.
"Electronic line calls? I think that is a negative for the sport. As a fan of tennis I really enjoy the challenge system," he said.
"Reviews are crowd engaging and that is a positive. But you never know; maybe people will love it."
Croatia's Borna Coric is happy to be part of a new vanguard and thinks scrapping the let rule on serve - which will be the case in Milan - is a good idea.
The other players in Milan are South Korean Chung Hyeon and a yet-to be-decided Italian wild card.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
NEXT GEN ATP FINALS
Day 1: StarHub Ch201, 9pm