If you had to choose one player that currently represents the modern game and the younger generation, it would have to be Australia’s own Nick Kyrgios.
The 28-year-old is one of the most divisive athletes in world sport, but there’s little doubt that he is well within touch of what the youth demand and crave.
After Wimbledon champion Pat Cash’s comments about Australian crowds getting out of control, Kyrgios responded with a jab.
“[It was an] Absolutely stupid comment by another old head that has no idea how marketing or how things work in today's day and age,” he said.
“You need entertainment. This generation doesn't have a long attention span. That's why you see clips on Instagram rolling. They're 15-20 seconds long…We need to continue to make the sport grow for fans everywhere.”
Perhaps Kyrgios is decoding the context into a much broader issue regarding the new generations’ interest in tennis. We live in a world surrounded by technology and social media which has undoubtedly minimised our attention spans where engaging with lengthy content becomes less common.
So, is the sport at risk of facing the potential scenario of turning away Gen Z and Gen Alpha fans from the game due to marathon matches and late-night finishes? 26 minutes to complete a single service game at last year’s Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz is only one of many examples to support this claim.
A man on a mission to adapt to the new generations coming through is Scottish entrepreneur Mark Milne, who has created a Thirty30-style format similar to the Twenty20 Big Bash cricket concept.
The concept is simple. Aimed to remove the ‘dead time’ during matches, Thirty30 tennis is an alternative shorter layout starting each game at 30-30, where the average playing time per set equates to 20 minutes.
Speaking exclusively to The First Serve, Milne explained the background behind Thirty30 and why the idea should be taken seriously.
“It’s a relatively shorter format that produces faster-paced tennis,” Milne told The First Service.
“The basic rules are that it’s the same as traditional scoring, but instead of starting a game at love-all, every game will commence at 30-30 to get away from the love-all and 15-0 points to get you right into the crux straight away.
“After some experimenting, we’ve discovered its best to play two games before initially changing ends, scrapping the break after the opening service game, followed by a change of ends after every four games during a set.
“There is also a variation called ‘Thirty30+’ which provides three options; A ‘golden deuce’ point played at deuce with no Advantage, a ‘silver deuce’ would mean no Advantage on the second deuce, and a ‘bronze deuce’ with no Advantage on the third deuce.
“It all came about when I was thinking back to my junior days on the practice courts when my coaches liked to start games at 30-30 to expose you to more experience playing the big points to cope with the pressure. All I’ve done is formalise it and brand it Thirty30 to sell as a younger sibling to cricket’s Twenty20.
“I want to stress the importance that I don’t want to transition away from traditional tennis because I want to maintain the DNA and ensure it looks the same - I’ve just come up with a simpler and faster alternative for the younger generation in particular who are not going to watch three or four-hour matches.”
The key target audience is young kids and future generations, but at the same time, there is a lingering concern that the traditionalists and older generation will unlikely be fully sold on the proposal.
Despite this, Milne laid those fears to rest.
“Tennis is very traditional and you’re always going to get a lot of people who are adverse to change which I’ve discovered with those same people saying ‘Nothing is wrong with the sport so don’t change it,’” he said.
“However, if you have that attitude, things can die very quickly. Everything around us must evolve to adapt to the times changing with kids having less attention spans than those same people who could watch a three-hour tennis match 30 years ago who are against change.
“You receive this sort of feedback in any walk of life, but what’s important is to constantly keep an open mind and accept change to prevent the sport from becoming irrelevant which I can truly see happening to tennis.”
From a player’s perspective, there can be a fair case to be made about tennis athletes training their entire lives based on the sport being scored in a particular way.
With factors such as stamina, tactical knowledge, and a shorter length of gameplay offering the underdog more of an opportunity for success, this all needs to be taken into consideration.
Add in the increased unpredictability of results, Milne shares the view that those changes will not significantly derail tennis from its ethics.
“I still think that if at least a best-of-three-set match is played, the better player will still win more often than not,” said Milne.
“Although I do understand there is a small window of opportunity for luck to come into the equation, with my experience playing best of three sets, that luck is not as common compared to only playing a tiebreak where points are few and far between.
“Because of how the format resembles traditional tennis, I think that playing Thirty30 can improve your performance of playing traditional tennis because you’re accustoming more to playing the big points more frequently.
“I understand it takes away from the physical demands even though at the same time we’re seeing fitness problems with injuries and fatigue due to the game becoming physically demanding like never before.”
The Twenty20 cricket model has been a huge hit since its inception and has ultimately handed fans of the sport an alternative entertainment option that is a different style to traditional test cricket.
As for Thirty30, how will it plan to coordinate with the ATP and WTA yearly schedule? Milne breaks it all down and explains.
“The last thing that I want to do is deter away from the traditional scoring system that is already in place for Grand Slams and Masters 1000 events. It would kill me to see that touched,” Milne admitted.
“What we want to do is to apply Thirty30 in the tournaments below the majors and seen as second and third tier which will give players the option of competing in a different scoring format to ease the load on their bodies in what is already a condensed tour schedule.
“The beauty with our format is that a tournament can be played over three or four days to have men, women, doubles, and wheelchair tennis all playing at the same event.
“The benefit of Twenty20 cricket being accepted into the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games is that it can act as an avenue for people to understand that it can be a similar version for tennis which will hopefully gain more support.”
From a financial standpoint, sport has never been more heavily reliant on money than it is today with the amount of investment and sponsorship deals.
For those wondering if the shortened length of matches will restrain profit-making opportunities due to cheaper ticket prices and fewer TV advertisements, Milne feels as though this side of the coin will not be impacted.
“The overall session that a person is going spend spectating is technically not going to reduce,” he confirmed.
“Because matches are shorter, we’ll see more matches unfold. For example, if you go to one of the Grand Slam tournaments and buy a day session ticket, you might see two or three full matches. Thirty30 will allow for the chance to watch more stars in action in that same time frame.
“This leads to a better estimation of match schedules on the court which equals more value for fans who are the heartbeat of the sport.”
Patrick Mouratoglou, renowned as one of the top tennis coaches in the world, has set out his own mission to reinvent tennis with the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) event debuting four years ago - consisting of four eight-minute quarters at a rapid-fire pace.
Milne believes that high-profile tennis names such as Mouratoglou are fundamental to ensure that innovation is taken seriously within the game.
“These guys trying it add more value than me because let’s face it, I’m a nobody compared to someone like Mouratoglou in the tennis landscape,” he said.
“If you have influential players, coaches, and big federations coming out and saying that change is required, then it builds healthy discussions and also helps me not be out on my own fighting a cause with little support.
“I have tried contacting Mouratoglou through different people, but he’s set out on his success from the UTS which is growing every year. The money involved is incredible to the point where the winner is receiving 500,000 pounds, so he’s under pressure to perform and make the concept work.”
Tireless work behind the scenes over several years to get this project over the line means that there are no plans to give up the fight.
Looking ahead to the future, Milne insists that he hopes to achieve his goal of putting Thirty30 tennis on the world map.
“My dream is to see Thirty30 played all over the world by as many people as possible at every level.
“My ultimate dream is to see the concept brought into the 2032 Olympics as well as implementing our scoring system into Padel tennis which is still using the old-fashioned scoring system.
“It all depends on attracting a huge financial backing, but if we can get the right people on our side to invest in our vision, then there’s no reason why we can’t achieve our objectives.”