Tour needs young stars to sell game
Tour needs young stars to sell game
The powers-that-be of the women's tennis world understand the system is broken. Badly broken.
The demanding schedule means the athletes are constantly injured but also frequently portrayed as either disingenuous or out-and-out liars for the manner in which they frequently withdraw from tournaments.
It's a disease that doesn't affect mighty Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. But for the rest of the game and in the industry – like this year's Rogers Cup in Toronto – it's just bad for business.
While just a few years ago the women's game was perceived to have become more colourful and interesting than the men's game, the disappearance of top players – Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles, Kim Clijsters – and ongoing problems with getting players to appear when they're supposed to appear has once again put the women a step behind.
So changes are on the way. But they're still two years or more away, which means an awful lot of added damage can be done before the tour structure is fixed.
It's up to the women currently on the tour, then, to go out of their way to do positive things to sell and promote the game, and part of that is developing new personalities and storylines to replace the old ones.
The dynamic Serbs, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, are both in Toronto this week, and both are blessed with sunny personas that would help any promoter. While they are seen as rising stars likely to be dominant forces in the game for years, the same is not yet necessarily certain for Marion Bartoli of France, an intriguing new character who charmed the All-England club last month en route to the Wimbledon final.
Was it all a fluke or is Bartoli the real deal, a late bloomer at age 22? She arrived in Toronto having lost three of the four matches she has played since stunning world No. 1 Justine Henin at Wimbledon – while simultaneously playing groupie to movie star Pierce Brosnan – and then losing to Venus Williams in her first Grand Slam final appearance.
Getting to a Grand Slam final, it seems, came with costs as well as benefits. The day after losing to Williams, Bartoli was bundled off in a car to Canterbury for a French TV commitment, then hustled back to London for the Wimbledon ball before jetting home to Geneva the next day.
When she later crossed the ocean to resume activity at a tournament in Stanford., Calif., she lost in the first round to an unknown wild card.
"After Wimbledon, I didn't really feel like I had any time off," she said yesterday. "There were so many phone calls, people wanting to talk to me, so many things going on with my agent, with sponsors. I felt I was busy every single day even though I wasn't playing tennis.
"But I'm young. In five years I will remember my final in Wimbledon, but not the first one I lost after that in Stanford, so that's fine."
Now ranked a career-high No. 11 in the world, Bartoli has so far accumulated more than $900,000 in winnings this season, mostly rewards for getting sizzling hot on clay in May and staying hot on grass in June.
"When you work so hard during your childhood, and put in all those hours on the court and in the gym, it's for going somewhere to do something," she said yesterday. "But it's really hard to bounce back after such a great result like Wimbledon. If you're more used to it, you know how to deal with it."
Bartoli caught the attention of the tennis world on the famous green lawns, but is now just realizing the truly heavy lifting is just beginning.