Superset tennis turns up the tempo

Agassi is on hand, but many eyes will be on Anna Kournikova

Stephen Duval has a novel idea to share with the Portland tennis community, and he's bringing along 10 of the world's top players to do just that.

Superset Tennis at the Rose Garden on Saturday follows an unprecedented format that Duval hopes will breed interest in an abbreviated version of the sport.

Eight men players. One day. Seven one-set matches. And a high-intensity final in which the survivor walks away with a $250,000 top prize for three sets of work in an event that will be videotaped and aired by CBS on Thanksgiving Day.

'We have modeled it after a world championship boxing card,' says Duval, a sports marketer who is managing director of Superset Tennis. 'Six fights on the undercard, then the title fight. That's what we have, and it's going to be a hell of an entertainment value for the people in attendance.'

Duval, a recreational tennis player and big fan of the sport, comes equipped with a world-class field, which includes five of the top 37 players on the ATP Tour.

The biggest name is Andre Agassi, the future Hall of Famer from Las Vegas who is ranked fifth. Also entered are Max Mirnyi of Belarus, ranked No. 23 in the world in singles and No. 1 in doubles; up-and-coming Robby Ginepri, 21, who has climbed to 30th; Taylor Dent, ranked 33rd and one of the tour's hottest players after winning a pair of tournaments last month; and James Blake, ranked 37th.

Duval is offering an added attraction Ñ Anna Kournikova Ñ who will play an exhibition set against 25th-ranked Amanda Coetzer in both the afternoon and evening sessions. Some fans might consider that the main event.

But not Duval, an Australian who turns 33 today and is the brainchild of the one-set, single-elimination, go-for-broke variation of tennis that fans will see at the Rose Garden. He chose Portland because it is one of the largest U.S. cities without a regular tour stop, and a market that has been underserved in the sport for more than a decade.

This is the first of what Duval intends to be a series of Superset competitions throughout the world. The plan is to have four male and four female events in 2004.

'The hope is, we will be coming back to Portland for 2004,' Duval says. 'We are committed to returning based on how it goes over on Saturday. We have interest for next year in such cities as Shanghai and Manchester.'

Superset Tennis goes for the same gusto as Arena Football Ñ a little more instant gratification than a best-of-five-set tennis match, or a four-hour NFL game.

'Endurance is a big part of tennis, and we are not trying to change that,' Duval says. 'We don't want to be in competition with the ATP or WTA; we are simply offering an alternative format.

'Tennis demographics are slowly aging,' he says. 'A lot of sports fans couldn't give a damn about sitting down to watch a 2 1/2-hour match but are more inclined to get into a whole bunch of one-hour, one-set matches. There's intensity and all the action that people love to see.

'The product is still purely tennis. We're just adding components that make it more user-friendly for the sports fan of today.'


Two of the other participants in the eight-man draw are Spokane's Jan-Michael Gambill (ranked 51st) and veteran Todd Martin (68th). The final player has yet to be announced. É First-round matches are set for noon. Semifinals begin at 7 p.m., followed by the finals. É Duval will pay guarantees to all of the players, 'but the amount is insignificant compared to the $250,000 the champion will take home,' he says. É A player must win a set by at least two games. A tiebreaker will take place when a set reaches 10-all. É Participants will take part in a clinic for Special Olympics on Friday at the Irvington Club.

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