Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tennis Chit Chat

by Savannah

I'm posting this about 10:30p East Coast USA time. I want to make sure my hypothesis holds. The above picture is from a day match during the WTA LA Women's Championship. There are a lot of empty seats. I can hear you all saying it's a day match in the hot sun. The fans must surely be on the grounds chowing down or browsing. Except that the stands look exactly the same at night. The face of the WTA, the Golden Girl, Maria Sharapova, has been playing in a near empty stadium as well. As one wit quipped there are ten people there for day matches and fifteen at night. Another fan made the statement that if Sharapova can't put butts in the seats the WTA has no chance of building the sport in Los Angeles.

Except that the empty seats have become the rule not the exception. During majors and combined events fans routinely head for the ATP match regardless of who is playing while the WTA matches are played in echo chambers. This is despite the fact that there are a lot of new players creating a buzz among fans.

The talk about more combined events has amped up again especially in light of this article posted online by the Globe & Mail regarding Tennis Canada's plans for the 2011 Rogers Cup.
Dramatic change is coming to Canada's premier tennis events in 2011, a year that will see the end of three decades of the men and women playing in separate weeks in the two cities.
Tennis Canada, mainly because of increased international pressure for more combined men's and women's tournaments, is going to have to squeeze its two marquee events into the same week. As a consequence, it has come up with what it is grandly calling the world's first ‘virtually-combined' tournament. The virtual refers to the melding of two events into one through the medium of television to produce images looking for all the world like those already coming from existing major men's and women's mixed tournaments in Miami and Madrid.

With its Stade Uniprix at Jarry Park in Montreal and Rexall Centre at York University in Toronto, Tennis Canada was not about to have the men and women play a customary combined event in one city. Both cities have been shown too much support for the events to be passed over every two years.

With Cincinnati securing the coveted date two weeks before the U.S. Open for its new mixed event in 2011, Canadian officials opted not to continue with two separate weeks if it meant stretching one of their tournaments back to four weeks before Flushing Meadows. That would have weakened player fields because it is too early for European players, the dominant force in tennis today, to come over to North America. So, Tennis Canada latched onto a date three weeks before the U.S. Open and hatched the idea of a ‘virtually-combined' tournament.
Tennis Canada officials are not eager to publicize it, but the men's tournament is significantly more marketable and popular than the women's. That is partly because of the greater strength of the men's fields from top to bottom, and partly because the men have proved much more dependable than the women in recent years at delivering the top stars for the Canadian events.

By splitting the draws, a men/women balance would be guaranteed in both cities every year, ending the underlying sense that the city featuring the men is getting the superior product. Montreal tournament director Eugene Lapierre is gung ho on the idea. “It would bring another dimension,” he said. “We'll have a winner in each place. It's like two 32-player draws.”

Whatever the distribution of players between cities, the image of one event, via television, will be reinforced whenever possible.

Please click the link above for the full article.

It's just my very humble opinion but the only ones who would allegedly benefit from this are the WTA head honchos and the players who will get to play in front of what I assume the bigwigs feel will be larger audiences. I use the word allegedly because as has been noted in this space if given the choice fans head to the ATP match. Unless one or both of those Williams Women are playing. While neither is the promotional face of the WTA in many fans minds they are the WTA, something no amount of magazine covers or cute dogs has been able to overcome.

Samantha Stosur
Both Venus Williams and Serena Williams are approaching the time in their careers where, much like Pete Sampras did as he got older, they're rightly focusing on the majors and not every single tour event. This will extend their careers and enhance their already shining legacy.

The burden is on the shoulders of the WTA to come up with a marketing plan for the tour and not just one player. I've said this a zillion times and will keep saying it until something is done to rectify the horrible situation that exists now. The WTA, by hitching it's star to the ATP, is not solving it's problems. Instead it's making them worse. The women's tour doesn't seem to know how to market Dinara Safina, the current number one, let alone Victoria Azarenka or Sorana Cirstea and doesn't seem to be interested in marketing the likes of Melanie Oudin or Sloane Stephens. Instead all the talk is about the girls in the 14-16 age group and younger, many of whom may not be able to transition to the pro tour. If they can't market the Safina's and Azarenka's of the world what the hell are they going to do with someone like Noppawan Lertcheewakarn who has eclipsed her fellow junior Laura Robson?

It's been interesting listening to the commentators struggle to put a positive spin on the abysmal level of tennis coming out of Los Angeles this week. When the star player has more double faults than aces what can be said? They say that the match last night between Maria Sharapova and Urszula Radwanska was only two hours long. It was the second time I've watched Radwanska the younger play. It's not as if Sharapova's game plan is a mystery. It's not as if what an opponent has to do to throw her off her game. U-Rad just seemed not to have the will to push her opponent out of her comfort zone. That was a quarter final match. Once it was finished I was ready to turn in for the night.

I'll just close this out by saying that the ATP event in Washington DC, Legg Mason, has had to cope with sell out crowds. I'm just saying.

End Note

My Twitter account is frelled. I may have to open a new one if the problems don't clear up soon.

Re the Crowd in Los Angeles: There are more people but the empty seats still outnumber them.

Thoughts on the Maria Sharapova vs Flavia Pennetta semi final in Los Angeles

The seeding held. Flavia, the number 10 seed, defeated the number 61 ranked player. There is nothing else to say.


Karen said...

Morning Savannah. I watched the match via live stream last night. All I have to say is this: for someone who is a fan favourite she sure cannot pull a crowd. Will be interesting to see the crowds at Cincy this week as LA had a dearth of folks. DC had a full house last night, not so for the day match. I think people are more drawn to the pesonalities of each Tour, rather than the Tour itself. If Roger and Rafa are playing, you know you will have sold out houses on the men's side. On the women's side, if you have Serena, and less so Venus playing, then you are guaranteed a good crowd.

Savannah said...

I watched both the quarter final match against U-Rad and last night's match against Flavia on ESPN2.

To be honest if U-Rad had half a brain not to mention cojones she could've taken Maria.

I've seen Flavia fight to win matches and wondered if she would flake out on this one or fight like she does during the South American clay court swing early in the year. Flavia is a veteran and no veteran player is going to have their opponent double faulting the way Maria was and then let her win the match. Don't get me wrong Flavia went soft in the second set but she regrouped and outlasted a visibly flustered Maria in the third set.

Today's final is going to be very interesting as far as I'm concerned. Stosur would love to get a singles final win and Flavia is knocking on the door of the top ten. If Flavia got enough rest it should be a good match.

Karen said...

Savannah, great comments. I am pulling for Flavia to win. Stosur's game does absolutely nothing for me and her personality leaves me cold.
I guess I should post what I am about to post in the other forum, but you can move it if you like. I think there are a lot of things wrong with junior tennis these days. I have seen the Nike junior tour series on TC and you can see from the get go that these children are not shown what it means to be international ambassadors for their sport. They know nothing of camarederie, and it is perhaps this reason why Richard pulled his daughters from the juniors. One of the things that you notice on the current crop of players, especially on the ATP side is that sense that they are all friends. May not be very close, but they are friends. You read stories all the time about Roger and Rafa texting each other back and forth and you see pictures of Roger having a laugh with Andy Murray and even Novak at parties. The ladies are sometimes caught in situations where you can tell that they are enjoying each other's company. Not so with the juniors. During the Nike junior tour programme, you could tell that the coaches and the agents were just there to showcase the talent and pick up the ones who they think will make it big. It is usually Nike and IMG that stipulates who will be the big stars of the future. Not talent. I think that is what Adidas is doing these days, but they seem to be going in another direction. They are going based on talent, and they have hired coaches and fitness trainers to enable their players to make it big. Nike is all about the stardom and to see just how ridiculous their players can look (will never forgive Roger for wearing that crap during Wimbledon)

Savannah said...

Karen I rarely see the juniors play unless they're in a Main Tour event since I don't have Tennis Channel. It's going to be an ugly generation coming up behind the current one.

You put the Adidas vs Nike situation in perspective for me. And don't forget the pink shirt fiasco. EWWWWWWWW.

IMG's influence on the sport is nothing short of toxic.

Karen said...

When you hear how the agents and coaches speak about these junior players, and see the look in the parents' eyes, you can tell that it is all about money. When you see interviews of Roger and Rafa from years ago, you see something in their eyes that you dont see in these young people's eyes. They play tennis for the sheer love of the game and the competition. Everything else is secondary. They enjoy it but I doubt very much that Rafa wore that pink shirt to make a statement. With Roger you never know as he seems to be too much in touch with his feminine side for my tastes some times (still my heartbeat though) LOL