Welcome to Mylan Island — a multi-part look at the Philadelphia Freedoms, Billie Jean King, Mylan World TeamTennis and everything in-between from our very own Nick Nemeroff.
Forty years ago, Mylan World TeamTennis began with the goal of bringing together men and women on an equal playing field, in a sport where the vast majority of the coverage was exclusively provided to the former.
Over the last four decades, on the back of Mylan WTT, tennis has become an increasingly equitable sport — with female players receiving a more balanced share of prize money, press and television coverage. While a lot has happened between 1975 and 2015, there is almost no question that Mylan World TeamTennis presented the most inclusive tennis platform we had ever seen. Today, the professional team tennis league has expanded beyond its original platform of gender equality and access.
It is now the greatest and most successful tennis experiment on the planet.
Each summer, teams from seven cities (Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Austin, San Diego, Springfield, Mo. Boston, and California/Citrus Heights) travel around the country in the hopes of capturing the King Trophy.
Everything about Mylan World TeamTennis is unique — and I mean everything.
For those not familiar, each team consists of two men and two women. There are five sets played throughout the match, and while a typical tennis match has six games in a set with a tiebreaker at 6-6, participants only need to win five games to win a set — with a five point tiebreaker occurring at 4-4. Additionally, the scoring does not follow the traditional love, 15, 30, 40, game path. Rather, Mylan WTT keeps it simple — leaving out the traditional scoring questions that some often come from casual fans — and instead counts points 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
Another aspect of the game that Mylan World TeamTennis has tinkered with is the let serve. As we have seen in NCAA Division I men’s tennis, Mylan World TeamTennis plays lets and does not redo serves that ricochet into the service box after hitting the net strap. What to do with lets has been a topic of major controversy over the years, and it’s nice to see someone actually experimenting with the rule.
In a new twist this season, Mylan World TeamTennis has also introduced a 25-second shot clock. ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert has called for this in ATP and WTA matches, but the idea has been met with a stream of resistance. Opponents of the shot clock argue that it would incite fans and pose as a visible distraction to the player, and that it’s better for the players to feel out how much time they need in between points. They have also argued that umpires objectively enforcing the rule when it’s broken would also make things a lot easier and take away any need for a shot clock. With many player-umpire conflicts stemming from time violations, it would instantly remove the perceived subjectivity that many feel has become a bit of a plague over the last several years.
The atmosphere created by Mylan World TeamTennis is also something to be commended. There is a public address announcer constantly giving fans updates and notifications throughout the match and music blasts whenever it can — before, during and after the match. The players are incredibly enthused and the fans really get into it.
Just as we see in basketball and football, Mylan WTT has halftimes — where they offer a whole host of activities for the fans and kids, such as allowing several young players the opportunity to rally with one of the pros. Following the match, teams offer the opportunity for young fans in attendance to participate in autograph sessions with the league’s stars — an opportunity they may not get elsewhere in tennis.
While it may seem like a bit of a reach to introduce some of the Mylan World TeamTennis concepts into the ATP and WTA events, consider the fact that the NBA and the NFL have almost all of these things, from timeouts to music to shot clocks and, of course, extremely hyped-up PA announcers. I’d be remiss not to point out the similarities, and there are certainly ways in which tennis as a whole can learn from its professional brethren.
Mylan World TeamTennis is unquestionably the best tennis experiment in the game — and while its innovations have yet to move from experiment to a widespread tennis reality in 40 years — perhaps they should.