Tennis - New York style!
By Jim Reffkin
It's September, it's New York and it's the US Open. Every year at this time, I am fortunate to be in the "Big Apple" to attend USTA Semi-Annual National Meetings and at the same time enjoy the largest annual sporting event in the world - the US Open.
After attending these meetings and attending the US Open every year since 1979, I must say this year had to be the most memorable. Not only will this huge event set new records for attendance, but a variety of "happenings" made the experience of being there even more fascinating.
Andre Agassi - I was fortunate to be court side for his memorable farewell match on Sunday. There was not a dry eye in the place. His incredible match earlier with Baghdatis, which was one of the most entertaining, exciting and competitive matches of all time, only set the stage for his "curtain coming down" last match with Benjamin Becker, a relatively unknown player, who will forever be the guy that defeated a weary Andre Agassi plagued by a painful back.
Billie Jean King - I'm sure you already know that the Tennis Center has now been named the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Wow, after years of incredible devotion to the sport of tennis, and years of being ignored by the governing body of tennis, the USTA finally awarded Billie Jean the "highest possible award" appropriate to her lifetime achievements.
Coaching - What you may not know, Billie Jean is not resting on her laurels, she is currently Chairperson of the USTA National "High Performance" Committee and makes it a point to visit as many meetings as possible to share her experience. As an example, her views on coaching during a match, a hot topic this year at our meetings, is very clear - what are we waiting for? Just do it! There is no other sport that denies coaching, and with the formidable years in junior competition, this has to be one of the biggest disservices in all of youth sports. Incidentally, the recent limited pilot they did on the WTA Tour with only occasional opportunity to coach was not embraced by the women or the men. Her answer to that - never listen to the players, they are the last ones to ask.
Jimmy Connors - After his incredible run of consecutive five set matches taking him to the 1991 US Open semi finals, the thirty-nine year old quit the men's professional tour, played some senior events, then went "cold turkey" never to be seen again until recent International Hall of Fame induction, and now as Andy Roddick's coach. Talk about "celebrity" enrichment, what a terrific windfall for television broadcasting to flash "Jimbo" squirming and tensing with Roddick's every shot.
Television - Thanks to Andre Agassi's dramatic career ending matches, there have already been remarkable viewer numbers. If we were ever to get close to Tiger Woods' star power in drawing viewers, Andre came close to at least giving tennis some respect in the hunt for viewership. Big USA network numbers for tennis: 2.6 million for Agassi and Pavel; 3.1 million viewers for Agassi and Baghdatis; 5.2 million viewers for Agassi's heart stopping loss to Benjamin Becker. Wow!
Roger Federer - Christopher Clarey of the New York Times says, "The bigger challenges for Federer surely lie ahead," How's that for an understatement! The fact of the matter is, Federer must not only fill the shoes of two legendary American greats - Agassi and Sampras - but fashion a Tiger Woods like persona to carry our sport to an even higher level in the sports market place. Clarey goes on to say, "one of those challenges is finding a way to maintain a healthy appetite for great success when you have already had plenty. He is not the only 21st-century sportsman in that position, and in an interview before the Open, Federer said that on those from whom he drew inspiration was Tiger Woods." Good role model Roger, lets hope you and Rafael Nadal can get it on and earn the respect for our sport that over the years Sampras and Agassi have given us.
Maria Sharapova - Thanks to Maria and her incredible television commercials, we have no fear that tennis will not continue to be "miles" ahead of the pack in women's sports. A strong personality does wonders for US Open viewership and entertainment value - who hasn't talked about her black cocktail tennis dress and her recent Andy Roddick connection. It's simple, if you have the kind of Hollywood persona she has created in the last two years, you don't have to be the number one player in the world - by the way, who is number one, and where oh where is Anna Kournikova these days?