Monday, August 24, 2009

Why You Should Watch the US Open

The Climax of the Tennis Season
I love all of tennis's Grand Slam tournaments (which also include The Australian Open, The French Open, and Wimbledon) but there are many reasons to enjoy the New York edition in particular. This is the finish line for the Grand Slam season. All of the story lines which have been building since January will come to resolution here. Seasons will be salvaged, pretenders will be exposed and new heroes will be born. All this in a tidy two-week package.

Eye Candy
There's plenty of it in both locker rooms. Are tennis players the most attractive athletes in the world? Judge for yourself. No helmets so you can actually see faces. And for the most part, the clothes are flattering. Of course, it's New York so the fashion show, primarily sponsored by Nike, gets plenty of press.

The Democratic Nature of Hard Court Tennis
Clay court tennis - that played at The French - favors a certain kind of player. The ball bounces higher. Therefore, a player's power is largely negated. The clay court specialist is fleet afoot and predicates his/her game on movement and tactics. The grass lawns of Wimbledon, on the other hand, are the playground of the powerful. One can make it to the second week on the strength of a big serve alone. Hard courts are, at least in theory, the middle ground. Thus the U.S. Tennis Center is an ideal place to settle who really are the best in the sport.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
I would happily wax poetic about either for verses on end. Suffice to say they are, in my opinion, the two greatest athletes in the world and the story of their rivalry is better than Shakespeare. If you've never watched a Federer-Nadal match, you've denied yourself the pleasure of the sports epic of our time. If you love the great sword fight in "The Princess Bride," Roger v. Rafa is the extended dance remix. Except, of course, in the tennis version, the Spaniard usually wins. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee they'll face each other in New York. But if they do, switch over from the NFL. You'll be glad you did.

Night Tennis
The U.S. and Australian Opens hold this advantage over their European cousins. Not only does tennis look really cool under the lights but it's also wonderful for the schedule for the simple fact that you can fit more tennis into a single day.

The Women's Game
The main rivalry these days is between Serena Williams and Dinara Safina but unlike Roger/Rafa, the rivalry is mainly played out in the press. Safina is ranked No. 1. Williams has won three out of the past four Slams whereas Safina has never won one. You see the problem. It is my hope that the Open will do something to sort all of this out. A Dinara/Serena final is exactly what the sport needs.

Gender Equity...Well, Kinda
Tennis players are the highest paid female athletes in the world. Tennis is one of few sports where men and women are equally popular and equally acclaimed. Prize money at the US Open is equal, too. Does that mean there is no sexism in the game? Certainly not. The TV commentary for women's matches often makes me want to throw things. But I still contend that tennis does better than most.

The Men's Game
It's a fantastic moment in the sport. Never mind the rankings, Roger and Rafa are still top dogs until proven otherwise. But the gang lining up behind them gets scarier all the time: Murray, Djokovic, del Potro and Tsonga for starters. They're all good and they're all young. Even Andy Roddick showed at Wimbledon that he's not ready to concede anything. It's been almost six years since anyone but Federer won this thing but it'll happen someday. Pick a pony. This one's gonna be fun.

Celebrity Spotting
The stars come out for the Open and the camera crews are constantly panning to spot them for our oggling pleasure. Undoubtedly, some come to be seen but others have a more pure devotion. Robert de Niro usually makes an appearance. Can't get much cooler than that.

International Flavor
I grew up on standard North American team sport fare: football, basketball, baseball and hockey. But in my adulthood, I've been drawn to soccer and tennis due in large part to their international platforms. The North American sports have done better along those lines recently but still come nowhere close to what you see on the tennis tour. Over the course of the year, the tours hit six continents and the player rankings reflect that. Gone are the days when Americans and Australians dominated. That fact has hurt TV ratings here in the States but for the sport overall, it's been wonderful.

I hope you'll join me.

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