EDITORIAL & OPINIONS
Tennis needs to be
Opened up to the fans
What the Shuk?
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
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.