An ace for Kantarian and an "unforced error" for tennis...
By Jim Reffkin
Arlen Kantarian, our Chief Executive for USTA Professional Tennis, served an "Ace" when he came up with the US Open Series. It hasn't taken the media long to grasp Arlen's innovative marketing effort to bring tennis, USTA style, to the general sports public. In a logical progression of ATP and WTA events that lead up to the US Open in the fall, US tennis finally has a season (like other major sports) in what now can be considered an appropriate climax or definable end to an exciting series of professional tournaments, USTA style.
However, we unfortunately have a couple of "Unforced Errors" that challenged the ten tournaments before the US Open, one of them being - No-shows! If you have ever run a tennis tournament, at any level, you are well aware of how fragile player commitments have become in the competitive tennis world. The headlines in USA Today, August 5, 2005 was "No-shows among top players a growing problem."
As an individual sport, withdrawing from an event unfortunately does not have the peer pressure consequences that team sports have. And you would think, with the prize money at stake, that professional tennis would not have this problem. Nope. It seems like the same kind of problems confront all tournament directors, no matter what skill level. When you do not have a team mate that's counting on you, all kinds of last minute emergencies happen. At the highest level, even Kim Clijsters has said, "I'm sure a lot of the girls, if they have a few little aches and pains, don't want to take a risk for the US Open." Sound familiar?
I will go further to say that players even with no ailment, but with the fear of a "grinder" opponent in their part of the draw, or an opponent that spells trouble, will invent some excuse to avoid the fear of losing or overextending themselves early in the tournament. However, I will be the first one to defend the player?s plight because they have an extremely difficult time with the grueling and punishing demands that lengthy matches and tournaments impose on them.
Referring back to the USA Today article, this brings me to the next "Unforced Error" that Pro Tennis - the ATP - is imposing on our game. It has decided, in order to create interest and save men's professional doubles, it must change the length of doubles matches. Great idea, however, what were they thinking? They will be adding - starting in September - a completely different scoring that will only once again baffle, either on TV or courtside, the average unsophisticated tennis viewer. Listen to this, they will be introducing no ad scoring, with sets ending at five instead of six, and if you are tied at 4-all, then play a tiebreak - are you kidding me? And gentlemen, the broadcasting people are going to hate this bizarre format because you are not solving the biggest issue - the time definable problem, will it go two or three sets?There is another issue. No ad is not being used "anywhere" except in World Team Tennis. And lets face it, the current signage now for televised matches is about as understandable as Serena Williams' tennis outfits. It will get worse, let me explain: with no ad scoring numbers will have to be used instead of the love, 15, 30, 40 etc. But I thought "real" numbers were only used in tiebreaks and number of sets won - and I thought you needed at least six games to win a set, and isn't a set tiebreak always at 6-all?
The USTA Tennis Innovation Committee has spent years introducing "innovative" scoring that fits the consumer's needs, and because it is easily understandable, it has made the game much more practical and popular to the general public. One of these opportunities is not a change at all, but a streamlining, a remodeling that does not alter the integrity of the game - Match Tiebreak in lieu of 3rd set. As my good friend ESPN broadcaster Cliff Drysdale says, "It is 'Time Definable' and that will save doubles."
An average Superscoring match (always only two sets) will be very close to ninety minutes at most. But keep in mind, Superscoring is not an experiment, it is already been approved by the International Tennis Federation and the USTA. It is growing more popular every year, and lets not forget, Superscoring is being used in mixed doubles in not only the US Open, but the Australian Open as well - not a very bad precedent to follow.