By Matthew Ross
HOW TO FIX U.S. INTEREST IN TENNIS
Ah, the glory days of American tennis.
Yes, that image is glorious, but no, I’m not talking about the beautiful tennis booty, but rather the game of tennis. It doesn’t seem so long ago that we were glued to one of the major Grand Slams, looking forward to watching the historic dominance of Pete Sampras, or curious to see if Andre Agassi could rise up one more time. Those days are long gone, unfortunately. Today, American tennis is a shadow of what it used to be. Heck, Vegas sports bettors have even forgotten that you can bet on the sport. Still, tennis is a unique competition, one that’s once again worth our North American interest. Here’s how we can fix it.
BRING SOME PERSONALITY BACK INTO IT
No, we’re not saying that we need a player like John McEnroe who will yell at the chair umpire (although, if that happened, I wouldn’t mind one bit!). But we do need some sort of exhibition of personality and charisma.
Take Novak Djokovic, one of the best tennis players in the world. This great Serbian is a force on the ATP tour, for sure. But he’s also one of the most entertaining figures associated with the sport. You don’t get the nickname Djoker for nothing. For all of his accolades in the sport, Djokovic’s claim to fame seems to be his propensity to dance on the court after a match. He loves to play up to the crowd, knowing that they have paid good money to watch him. Djoker loves life and that’s what the fans love about him.
Take the Djokovic incident, a few months ago at the French Open. He’s sitting in his changeover chair on the court, waiting out a quick rain delay. There’s a teenage boy sitting next to him, holding an umbrella for the both of them. Djokovic pulls out a beverage and takes a sip. Then he takes the umbrella from the boy and proceeds to be the one to hold it. Finally, in a stroke of PR brilliance, Djokovic offers the boy his own drink. The crowd who stayed in their seats began applauding and cheering. The boy and Djokovic continued to chat for a few minutes on the court. The footage went viral online. Now that is personality. Can an American please stand up?
MORE U.S. OPEN TYPE CROWDS AROUND THE COUNTRY
The magic of the late summer U.S. Open tournament in Flushing, New York, is that it’s a uniquely American crowd. Generally, crowds are composed, dignified and respectful. That’s not always the case at the U.S. Open – and we like it that way. There’s nothing like a center court late night matchup featuring an American player and a raucous crowd. It really is magic. Hearing the nosebleed section fans screaming for their tennis hero is the way tennis should be played.
So, why don’t we see this across the country? Sure, there is only one U.S. Grand Slam event and it’s in New York. But what about all of the other fairly large tennis tournaments that are on the ATP and WTA tours? Why can’t they have the same passion, energy and excitement? A sport is what we make of it in this country; it can’t all be on the players.
Every major team sport has an all-star game. And while the sport of tennis does have team play in the form of country versus country, I believe we need to see more fun exhibitions.
Why can’t we have a skills competition televised? They have it in the NHL and NBA. Even MLB has the Home Run Derby. Why not in tennis? This is America, the land of overhype and excess. We should be able to put together a ridiculous yet fun tennis spectacle.
Wouldn’t you tune in to see who has the hardest serve or most accurate backhand? I’d even love to see the players have to fire balls into the crowd as part of a skills event.
The point is that televising and selling tickets to a tennis exhibition would really create a buzz about the sport. It would rightfully call attention to the stars of the game, and in turn, allow the stars to show off their personalities a little more.
TENNIS IS NOT GOLF
The sport of tennis has country club roots. There’s no denying it. But it’s a sport that’s way more accessible than golf, a so-called sport that permits carting people around. So let’s have more fun with it. You don’t attract the next generation of great athletes to your sport unless you make it as appealing as possible. Whispering during a match and wearing all-white is not going to cut it anymore.
You want the next Andre Agassi? Me too. Then let’s do something about it. Let’s shake this sport up a little and inspire its future stars. I’m sure Canon camera company will thank us for it.
Matthew Ross is a longtime sports freelancer and radio host. Follow @tsnMatthewWords.