Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Bob Cole nails it. All the "Let's make it more like World Team Tennis!" gimmicks or "Let's try to sell celebrity personalities!" dodges will not fix the problem. I love how he works in a mention of Andrea Jaeger, because the WTA has been in almost the same position before. A lot of credit should be given to Arantxa for seeing and saying that the solution is for her (and the other players) to play better. "To beat her, you have to play your best and take all your chances that you have during the matches." Thank you, Arantxa, thank you! Even Lindsay Davenport, still just a kid at this time, had a sense that she needs to do what Steffi does. And Steffi herself was all but saying "Come on, you bums!" But the WTA management just fiddles while the Foro Italico or whatever burns. Cut the 90 second changeovers in half? 1) Those 90 second changeovers are where the bulk of your TV revenue comes from, at least in the U.S. market; 2) If people are complaining about how short the matches are, 45 second changeovers will only make it worse.
FANS SERVED A BREAK? - GRAF'S WITHDRAWL LEVELS FIELD, BUT WOMEN'S GAME STILL THE SAME
Sunday, March 27, 1994
BOB COLE, Senior Writer
Family Circle Magazine Cup officials were presented a bad-news, good-news scenario when Steffi Graf withdrew from the 22nd annual event last week. The bad news: They lost their No. 1 seed and the No. 1 player in the world. The good news: They'll have a more competitive tournament.
With Graf in the field, everybody else is playing for second place. Without her, it's wide open.
Graf's domination of women's tennis is a sad fact that the Women's Tennis Association is having to confront these days. Consider: Unchallenged in the absence of former No. 1 Monica Seles, Graf has won four straight Grand Slam tournaments and 32 straight matches dating to last November.
Or this: she's lost just one set this year -- that to Natalia Zvereva last week -- and hasn't come close to losing a match.
Graf's chokehold on the women's game isn't likely to change in the foreseeable future. Seles hasn't played since being stabbed by a spectator in Germany last April and says she probably won't play at all this year. And, sad to say, Seles is the only player with the weapons to challenge Graf.
The women's tour faces a huge television marketing problem. The problem is so bad, ESPN cut its broadcast time of the women at the Australian Open in January to one week.
"Tennis is down 30 percent across the board," Dave Zucker, vice president for programming at ESPN, said.
Women too 'predictable'
The problem, former men's No. 1 player Jim Courier says, is that most women's matches have predictable outcomes, particularly where Graf is concerned.
"No one wants to see a sure thing," he said. "What men's tennis has going for it is parity -- people come out and see me play a guy who isn't ranked in the top 100 and it can be a tight match.
"It's difficult to create excitement when you have a girl who hasn't lost a match since the No. 1 player (Seles) got hurt."
Compounding the problem is the loss of personalities capable of drawing mass TV audiences. Such as Jennifer Capriati, who burst onto the scene three years ago billed as the next Chris Evert, but has since dropped off the tour to finish high school and try to determine if she really wants a career in the sport.
And Martina Navratilova, who revolutionized the women's game with her strength and athleticism, but has lost a step and the sting in her racket and is retiring in December.
Navratilova understands the problem but isn't sure how to solve it.
"When you have two of the biggest names not playing, that's going to take a lot out of any sport," she said. "When you take superstars out of the game, you're going to have problems. Hopefully they'll come back, but for now, it definitely leaves a void there.
"That's a void that I'm not going to fill and Steffi can't do it all by herself, either. It's (developing new potential superstars) been slow the last four or five years. Really, Jennifer is the only big name that came up. Usually, you have a really big potential superstar coming up every year, but that hasn't happened lately."
Game's big names missing
Andrea Jaeger, once ranked No. 2 in the world as a teen sensation in the early 1980s, says part of the problem -- at least, for American audiences -- is that foreigners now dominate the women's game.
"The American public wants to see their kids out there, they want to see an American No. 1 like they saw for so many years in (Chris) Evert and (Tracy) Austin. We don't seem to have anyone like that now, and it's going to hurt American tennis.
"Look at the men's game. You've got the likes of (Pete) Sampras, Courier, (John) McEnroe, (Andre) Agassi -- look down the men's top 20 at how many Americans are in there. That's what's going to develop your next generation of players."
Women's tennis officials admit they are concerned about the game's diminishing television appeal, and are considering ways to spice up the product. Like using red balls, cutting the 90-second changeovers in half to speed it up, and TV spots during matches showing players in more socialized settings, designed to highlight their personalities.
"The public isn't involved enough in tennis tournaments, that's obvious," Navratilova said. "When I play team tennis, the people really get into it, every night is a special happening, and the promoters do extras to keep the fans interested. It may be gimmicks, but they do it in other professional sports, why not tennis?"
Or, come up with a few more players who can compete at Graf's level.