September 9, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 6  

Front Page >> Editorial & Opinions > Tennis needs to be Opened up to the fans
 

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EDITORIAL & OPINIONS

Tennis needs to be Opened up to the fans

What the Shuk?
Mark Polishuk

Opinions Editor

During one of the million rain delays of this year's U.S. Open, CBS decided to fill the time by showing a Jimmy Connors match from 1991, when the cagey veteran was making a Cinderella run to the semi-finals.

This match was a breath of fresh air, easily the best tennis match I've seen in at least a year. Connors was the kind of player who was impossible to ignore, with his ragged, give-100-per-cent-on-every-shot style of play that kept the crowd gasping on each volley.

The contrast between the U.S. Opens of 1991 and 2003 was pretty stark. This year's tournament was marred by injuries and bad weather, and while it could be chalked up as just one of those years, it's symptomatic of the decline of tennis as a major sport. TV ratings are down, attendance is down and arguably the best known tennis player (Anna Kournikova) is known more for her looks than her game.
Tennis especially suffers in comparison to golf, another "country club" sport that has risen in popularity over the last decade. Golf's elitist image still persists, but the emergence of Tiger Woods has helped open it up.

The biggest names in tennis over the last few years have been Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Venus and Serena Williams. Agassi is comparable to Woods in the charisma department, but Sampras (for all his talent) never completely captured the public's imagination.

Tennis aficionados will argue, and I largely agree, that Sampras' substance was more important than style, but how many times did you ever say "Sampras is playing, let's watch"? An individual sport relies on unique personalities to sell the game. A Montreal Canadians fan will always follow his team no matter who's wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge, but tennis doesn't have that kind of brand loyalty.

As for the Williams sisters, they are as dominant as two players have ever been, but their mutual talent hasn't translated into a classic rivalry. Whenever Venus and Serena play each other, the result is a sloppy, one-sided match.

On the bright side, all tennis really needs is one star to capture the fans' imagination. Perhaps the best hope is Andy "Mr. Mandy Moore" Roddick, who has the game to make people look past his famous girlfriend. It would also help if Anna Kournikova actually concentrated on tennis, but let's not wish for the moon here.

 

 

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