The Greatest Show on Court: US Open Tennis Championships

While I am not a New Yorker and therefore do not have the usual parochial slant which favors all things that originate in the Big Apple, I can confidently state that the US Open Tennis Championship is without question the most well-run sporting event on the planet.  In attending courtside action on Day 3 and Day 4, I viewed the dominating power demonstrated by an array of the world’s best players as well as inspired play by up and coming professionals during first two rounds of the tournament.  Among the dozens of exceptional matches I watched in part or en toto, I was able to see:

  • A gritty, 19 year-old American, Christina McHale (daughter of Celts legend, Kevin) outhustle French jumping-bean, Marion Bartoli (ranked #9 in the world);
  • Prohibitive underdog,  #455 Madison Keys jump all over 26th ranked Lucie Safarova in a first set filled with jaw dropping passing shots only to succumb to experience 6-3  5-7 4-6;
  • An outstanding 1st Round match-up between power-serving American, John Isner, and international fan-favorite Marcos Baghdatis of Cypress battle through four sets, two of which resulted in tiebreakers; and
  • Super-giant Croatian Ivo Karlovic crush world-ranked #13 & single-handed back-hand expert, Richard Gasquet “like bug.”

I was also treated to the dominant play of Sharapova, Roddick, Federer and Williams, however the most entertaining match of the Open thus far has been  gravity-defying, Frenchman Gael Monfils (#7) versus injury-free, former World #1 (2003) Juan Carlos Ferrero.  Ferrero knocked out Monfils in a five set, five-plus hour epic: 76 57 67 64 64.

The only aspect of the Open that I do find troubling is the United States Tennis Association’s insistence on featuring Americans and only top-ranked players during prime time broadcasts throughout the first week of this two-week tennis bonanza that is the US Open.  A separate admission is required at the Arthur Ashe Stadium to view these matches and the cost of a seat below the nose-bleed tier in the stadium starts at $175.  The USTA must figure that fans will only pay to see the highest ranked players or mid-level Americans; however, there are two rather obvious defects in this rationale:

  • All matches during the first week that feature top 3 seeds are typically quick and ruthless – especially in the men’s draw – so spectators are expected to pay up to $690 for a courtside seat to watch an hour and half of a one-sided tennis match.  That does not help the game, nor does it leave fans feeling warm and fuzzy about their experience.  Who wants to pay $175 to see Novak Djokovic mop the court with Carlos Berlorq 60 60 62, or Caroline Wozniacki school Arantxa Rus 62 60 (although a the match did feature two of the more attractive women in the field)?  Tennis fans – the folks who come to Flushing Meadows every year for this feast –  want to see a competitive match, not a one-sided pummeling.
  • There are a load of international visitors who come to the Open and the draw at the Ashe court for a solid pairing – like the Monfils/Ferrero match on Thursday – would have equaled the Federer/Sela match which ran contemporaneously.  Moreover, both American fans and the International crowds who take the time to come to Flushing want to see exciting players.  Even before the Monfils/Ferrero battle, the buzz at the Open was all about that interstellar pairing.  The Armstrong Court which hosted the match was filled to capacity, while the Federer/Sela match yielded a stadium that was approximately 1/3 full and morgue-like quiet.  Granted, the Ashe Stadium is a little over twice as large as the Armstrong Stadium, but Monfils/Ferrero deserved to be recognized as the choice match of the day. “People will come [USTA], people will most definitely come.”

[Even tonight, we are being fed Djokovic versus Nicolay Davydenko – that is going to be a bloodbath.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from the growing French contingent, against Fernando Verdasco, one of Spain’s array of top 30 stars, would have been the right call today for the Ashe match, USTA.]

Which brings me to my next point.  If the USTA had any idea of how to market tennis, they would have showcased Gael Monfils on the Ashe Court and endeavor to make Monfils the sport’s poster child.  I know that Djokovic is the top ranked player and before him there was Nadal and Federer;  Monfils is #7.  If the USTA wants to develop more fans of tennis and establish a broader base, Gael Monfils must be featured in their branding.  He simply has more demographic allure and the potential to extend the market beyond the existing tennis fan-base.  And they need to jump on Gael’s back immediately because the speed, style and acrobatics of Gael Monfils cannot continue indefinitely.  He will never be a World #1 because of all of the energy he expends in getting a racket on every ball leaves him gassed, especially in the Grand Slam five-set marathons.  But Monfils is a human highlight reel.  I propose that the R&D team at the USTA compile a nice montage of clips of some of the remarkable shots that Monfils has executed and test it with new demographics.  Monfils will sell the sport, and the USTA can send the Bench Jockeys a tidy consultant fee for our recommendation.

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