WATCH: Bublik outfoxes Shelton with 'round the post winner

LOS ANGELES—When Patrick Mouratoglou created the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he sought to build stronger connections between tennis players and fans. He finally realized that vision this past weekend.

“I couldn’t wait for the moment we could experience UTS with the full stadium,” Mouratoglou said.

Launched in June 2020, UTS is an innovative tennis league dedicated to captivating a younger audience with its revolutionary approach to the sport. Players are given nicknames and compete in four 8-minute quarters, accompanied by an on-court DJ to elevate the excitement during points.

UTS also aims at “redefining the relationship between fans and players during matches.” Competitors are equipped with headsets during each changeover and can talk to the crowd, their coaches, and opponents.

The tournament's fifth edition, held in Los Angeles, was the first UTS event to host fans after crowd attendance was restricted in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. Taylor Fritz and Ben Shelton were among the eight ATP players that competed at the Dignity Health Sports Park.


There was no shortage of high-flying entertainment.

There was no shortage of high-flying entertainment.

Wu Yibing, dubbed “The Great Wall” by UTS, lifted the lightning bolt trophy after beating Fritz, “The Hotshot,” in the UTS Los Angeles final. The Hangzhou, China native made the most of his event debut, appreciating the unique combination of elements on offer.

“I think this is a different [type of] tennis than what we’re used to playing,” Wu said. “You have your coach on the side, you have the fans, the music…normally you don’t see this in solo sports and I think it’s a very good change. You’re going to want to play your best and show the fans how good you are.”

Mouratoglou, former coach of Serena Williams, doesn’t intend on trying to replace the ATP and WTA Tours. His goal is to create an alternative circuit that allows spectators to “completely express themselves” and cheer loudly, even during points.

“The crowd had more fun than a classical event because they were allowed to be more involved,” Mouratoglou said. “It’s more like a show and they are more actors in the show, and I felt that they were able to have a better connection with the players than a classical event.”

Bryce Everett, co-host of the “Bruthas On Tennis” podcast, finds that UTS provides a more interactive tennis-viewing experience.

“It's definitely much more engaging than the regular tour from an audience perspective,” he said.

“With a tennis tournament, you pay $1,000 for a seat, and you're told to sit down and shut up. Here you come, you pay your money and you can be vocal.”



The relaxed, fan-centric atmosphere also enabled players to show more of their personality on the court. Wu won over the Southern California crowd with his flashy football celebrations and Rocky Balboa impressions.

“Three days ago I’m a normal guy and now it turns out I’m the new Kyrgios,” he told fans during one of his mid-match interviews.

"The Mountain” Ben Shelton, who fell to Wu in the semifinal, said UTS promotes a greater sense of camaraderie among the players.

“Usually out on the ATP Tour, it’s so many players that it’s not as much of a personal thing. With only having eight guys here, there’s a lot more personalities coming out and time spent together,” Shelton said. “To be able to see different sides of these guys that I hadn’t seen before was really cool for me.”

One of the most distinctive features of UTS lies in its rules. In addition to the quarter system, players are only allowed one serve instead of two. They also play lets and have no match warm-up. Competitors can also use one “Next Point counts x3” bonus card per quarter.


UTS adopts a round-robin format, guaranteeing each player at least three matches. Competitors are split into two groups and the top four players advance to the playoffs.

Shelton, who is competing at the Atlanta Open this week, believes UTS helped prepare him for the North American summer hard-court swing.

“The format, having only one serve, playing quickly, pressure points…it gets you ready for the pressure of playing an ATP tournament,” he said. “To be able to play four or five matches, I think that’s a pretty cool experience. I’m taking a lot of confidence into these next few weeks on hard court.”

Fritz, the top seed in Atlanta, considers UTS Los Angeles the ideal start to his upcoming hard-court campaign.

“The confidence I was getting from winning matches and playing these high-stakes pressure moments is something that you can’t repeat in practice,” Fritz said. “I’m gonna go back home and recover just like how I would recover from any tournament and get ready to get into the next.”

Mouratoglou aims to improve the UTS experience with each successive event. UTS 6 will be held in Frankfurt, Germany from September 15-17. It will be the second in a series of three UTS events in 2023 leading up to the "Grand Final" in December.