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Next Gen ATP finals hit by sexism row

The ATP NextGen Milan draw ceremony made players select models to determine their group. March 7 2017 Clive Brunskill/Getty Images/AFP

The Next Generation ATP finals kicked off on Tuesday in Milan, amid controversy over the sexist portrayal of women at the eight-man event's inaugural draw.

Critics have slammed Sunday's draw in Milan as "sexist", French tennis champion Amélie Mauresmo has called it a "disgrace", and on Monday the governing body of men's tennis, the ATP, was forced to deliver a grovelling apology even before a single ball was hit.

The uproar is about the treatment of eight fashion models brought on to announce the draw at the tournament's opening ceremony.

One of the eight under-21 players was asked to pull off a model's glove with his teeth, other players discovered whether they were in group A or B by choosing the model they liked the most.

One model had the letter A or B hidden on her thigh, another had it on her back, while another performed a striptease to reveal where the letter was, causing outrage on social media.

According to the critics, the proceedings reduced the women to sex-objects.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked when I saw what happened in Milan," tennis commentator Chris Dennis told RFI. "I don't think anybody was expecting that sort of ceremony."

French Twitter user Aurélien Canot commented that the draw was "bad taste".

Dennis agrees: "In football parlance this is an own goal from the halfway line."

"It was completely self-inflicted and what should have been a positive news story for this new tournament-- and all the players were looking forward to getting stuck in and playing this--has now been hijacked by a negative story."

In their apology, ATP and Red Bull which cohosts the event, said they had aimed to integrate Milan's rich heritage as one of the world's fashion capitals but the ensuing controversy they have caused suggests they went about it in the wrong way.

The paradox is that the Next Gen tournament was hailed as showcasing the next generation but instead, critics say it's given a very outdated view of women.

"I think it would be distasteful in any week of the year," Dennis says, adding that given the current climate of sexual harassment being levied against powerful men, the timing was unfortunate.

"With all that's going on in the United States with [film producer Harvey] Weinstein and in the UK currently with accusations of disreputable behaviour through certain politicians, I think the timing of this could not have been worse."