Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Heard Around

by Savannah

Here's a follow up to Martina Navratilova's comments posted here yesterday.

It seems inconceivable that the Williams sisters, given their wide-ranging lifestyles and sporadic commitment, rank 1-2 in the world. Nothing says they can't combine to win the next four majors -- but that's not the point. Where's that traditional elite player, the Martina Navratilova or Steffi Graf, who shows up every week and presents a relentless, dominant challenge? The talent is there -- Serena, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova -- but somebody's always hurt, or inconsistent, or struggling to regain form.

It's a tour without a clear identity, and this has to be a reason why Europe shrugs in indifference. Crowds were shockingly thin for most women's matches in the recent clay-court events. Jelena Jankovic took the court in Rome for a quarterfinal against Venus, and the atmosphere resembled a match for seventh place in a Division III collegiate tournament. Venus and Aravene Rezai began their Madrid final in a near-empty arena, filling up (to a degree) only as the match approached the one-hour mark.

Tennis needs stars, people to count on, which is why a packed house was buzzing well before Federer and Nadal even took the court. If someone is going to step up on the women's tour, she has yet to identify herself.

I'm not quite sure where this Bruce Jenkins has been for the last couple of years but the WTA has been playing to near empty stadiums - as chronicled in this space - for going on two years now. It doesn't matter if the tournament is in the States or overseas.

And lets get real here. If Martina and Steffi were just starting out now they would not be considered stars by the WTA tour. Not the right look or lifestyle would be the unwritten attitude towards the two women. Until the WTA starts marketing the tour not individual personalities the stands will remain empty for even their marquee players.
And I don't know where he gets this idea that no one has stepped up to the plate to carry the tour. Venus Williams and Serena Williams have shown they can indeed play top ranked tennis. All the others have shown is that they can take a decent picture. I consider this talk about the tour being a mess to be racist. There is no beating around the bush on this. There was no one in the stands when Dinara Safina was number one. Aside from drooling prepubescent boys the stands were pretty empty when Maria Sharapova was on the court. Neither Kim Clijsters nor Justine Henin are major draws except in the United States where the Cult of the Belgians seems to be strongest. Lets be clear. What is being said is that two American women of African descent are not draws. Bullshit. It's the WTA tour and it's head in the sand marketing approach that have caused the demise of fan interest in their product. Let's not blame the women who have carried the tour for that. The blame goes right to the top and should be focused there.

This article is an interesting insight into how the American tennis establishment thinks as well as how the so called tennis media simply regurgitates their opinions.

Jenkins does manage to get one valid point in though.

As for TC's setup in Madrid: The men's tour has an international network for the nine Masters events and year-end championships, complete with announcers on the scene. The WTA has no such deal, which explains why Katrina Adams and Brian Webber called all of the Madrid women's matches from a studio in Los Angeles.

Random Results
Tsvetana Pironkova defeated Elena Dementieva at Polsat 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. The match lasted three hours and saw Elena commit 59 unforced errors.

Olivier Rochus defeated Robin Soderling at Nice 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Maria Sharapova beat up on Dia Evtimova, a qualifier from Bulgaria 6-3 and 6-0. Her first serve percentage for the match was 96%.


Karen said...

Savannah, you have hit the nail right on the head. They make it seem as if when Justine and others were at the top of women's tennis that crowds were flocking to matches. Crowds may have been flocking to matches but that was perhaps because people had disposable incomes and during 2007 the rise of Serena Williams had begun. Not only had she invigorated the Tour by winning the Australian Open but her rivalry with Justine Henin drew interest in the women's game like never before seen.

I have been saying it for years that the Tour does not need to market one woman, it needs to market the whole Tour. I can never understand why it is that all these major marketing companies who pay these women millions of dollars to showcase their products are not insisting that the networks offer equal coverage so that their supposed money trees can be seen. Here it is you have Sharapova and Ivanovic who have just inked multi million dollar deals with Nike and Adidas and yet they are hardly being shown on tv. I have been on a one woman campaign trying to drum up interest on the women's tour as I find that the whole Federer/Nadal rivalry has run its course. There is no more excitement in that rivalry as for all intents and purposes the outcome is the same, the tactics being employed by both players are the same. Nothing new here.

I think this whole Federer/Nadal rivalry is just something that the media is playing up in the way of Agassi/Sampras. It is not. Federer and Nadal like and respect each other. Federer cannot beat Nadal on clay and has problems beating him on other surfaces. It has become boring. Give us something new ATP because just as how the women killed their sport by marketing a face, so too will the ATP kill its product by relying on 2 players to carry the whole Tour.

Karen said...

So, did you hear the one about the Russian who took the appearance money because they needed a star, took to the court, played like hell, had her ticket booked to Paris for the next day, and following her defeat in the tournament she was in Paris a few hours later. The WTA is looking into the supposed allegations of tanking. Will be interested to see how this one pans out seeing as bookmakers had her as odds on favourite to win against her qualifier opponent. It does not get better than this. LOL

Karen said...

I guess not even the Sharapova juggernaut can get people to watch matches in Strasbourg.

Savannah said...

Karen that is juicy indeed.

Christian said...

I can't pay you to preach, Savannah! haha You're going to have to do it for free! Excellent post...