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Sophie
Nov 10th, 2002, 12:01 AM
Season Finale Exposes WTA's Weakness
By SELENA ROBERTS


OS ANGELES

JENNIFER CAPRIATI decided to shake off a loss with a wild hair toss to the beat inside a Manhattan nightclub two months ago, stepping out on disappointment by slipping into a sheer ensemble from the "I Dream of Jeannie" collection.

Grooving in a satin bra, holding a cigarette like a party favor, that's the image captured by paparazzi hours after Capriati lost in the United States Open quarterfinals.


When she awoke to see the photo in a tabloid, she directed a brief burst of outrage at WTA Tour handlers who were at the same party: "How did you let this happen?" Then, there was a pause in her fury, followed by, "My abs looked flat, didn't they?"

After winning three majors, after receiving adulation for her 2001 reincarnation, Capriati is still the same paradox of insecurity and petulance that she was at 13, a blend still as infuriating as it is appealing.

The public sees her unvarnished edges — the way she curses umpires, how she blasted Billie Jean King — but embraces her unconditionally after standing by Capriati from teenage darkness into a 20-something recovery. They feel they know her, understand her. And if she is irascible, it's no wonder. Her barrel-chested father is as blustery as Bluto. If she is aglow, there's a reason. Her serene mother is more soothing than aromatherapy.

The contradiction is in the genes. And when her conflicts have played out in the open, it has made for intriguing, if dysfunctional, theater over the last decade.


What a coup for the WTA. In recent years, the leaders of the Tour have embraced the salacious if it means ticket sales and ignored the code of good taste if it means TV ratings.

Anna Kournikova recently chewed the enamel off the teeth of Enrique Iglesias in a music video; somewhere, a Tour exec was smiling like Mayor McCheese. The romance between the cagey Martina Hingis and the waggling golfer Sergio García just ended; somewhere, a Tour official cringed at the end of a gossip column item. Serena Williams squeezed into a cat suit for the United States Open; somewhere, a Tour suit was perfectly thrilled.

But what happens when Kournikova keeps disappearing with injuries, and Hingis has also faded from view? What happens when the public grows numb to sex appeal in a society where everyone from former Enron employees to rock stars is preening in the buff?

And what happens when Capriati is between sagas, and there is no threat to the Williams sisters?

You get the Staples Center, a tennis arena as bare as a bachelor's fridge.

In the opening days of the Tour's year-end championships, which culminate tomorrow, the Lakers' cavernous den was filled with only a few hundred fans.

"It's L.A.," Serena Williams explained Thursday night. "Everybody is Hollywood. Everybody is home doing something or going to a premiere."

WTA Tour events are not shows, but they have been treated like traveling lounge acts by officials who have trumped poor decisions with horrible choices. Until the fall of 2001, the Tour could count on nearly 100,000 fans to show up for the season finale at Madison Square Garden after years of building a solid fan base in New York.

Last year, the Tour wizards took it to Munich only to watch total attendance plunge below 37,000. Now, in the backyard of the Williams sisters' childhood home, in the playground of celebrities who usually crave courtside seats, in a cosmetic land where it's hip to be young and athletic, no one is buying women's tennis.

The scene is a sign of trouble, if the WTA chief executive, Kevin Wulff, wants to admit it. With two bold moves, he could perk up his product: one, find a way to take the championships back to the Garden; two, put his ego aside (because the men's tour chief won't) and invite the fellas to have their big finish with the women.

Wulff can take steps, or pray to Vogue that Kournikova heals. He can be proactive, or cross his fingers for another Capriati renaissance.

Until Kournikova can shuffle along a baseline, the health of the Tour may be up to the second most popular player, Capriati. More than Lindsay Davenport, Capriati has the power and speed to split up the all-Williams finals, infusing the sport with a sense of rivalry that is missing right now.


But throughout the week, Capriati has been inspected for signs that she is on the verge of another career caving. Her nails are painted black. Is she spiraling back into her gothic teenage abyss? She won just one match in five before last week. Has she misplaced her love for the game again? In mood and attitude, she is a long way from the wonder story of 2001.

"There's been a few more losses and a little more pressure this year," said Capriati, ranked No. 3 behind Serena and Venus Williams. "It hasn't been the whole up-and-up year.

"Who knows? Next year, it could be my comeback from this year. Maybe that's what I need. Maybe I do this on purpose."

Self-sabotage, it has been the perfect pick-me-up for Capriati. No one unravels only to regroup as well as she does. A public that can identify with her insecurities (who doesn't want flat abs?) laps up each and every Capriati makeover. In a sign of its fragile state, the Tour is banking on her next one




I would love the men and women to have their events together. Then it really would be the fifth slam. They could change the venue because it doesn't have the number of matches that the slams do, and the men could have the doubles championship at the same time, instead of getting shafted at the last minute.

Sam L
Nov 10th, 2002, 12:08 AM
Originally posted by Sophie
"It's L.A.," Serena Williams explained Thursday night. "Everybody is Hollywood. Everybody is home doing something or going to a premiere."


She said it! Maybe it just isn't a tennis town :confused:

Get it out of there!

Ted of Teds Tennis
Nov 10th, 2002, 12:17 AM
Nitpick:

Madison Square Garden decided not to renew the contract (in part because the WTA wanted to end the season earlier). The move to Munich was partly out of necessity. But it should be noted that it's probably better for the players not making them cross the Atlantic another time during the season.

I think that having a two-week event the size of a Slam in, say, Moscow at the end of the year would be a great idea. Logistically, I don't know if it's possible.

Volcana
Nov 10th, 2002, 01:50 AM
a) I believe the commitment to L.A. is for seven years. Enough money could make that go away of course

b) L.A. may not be a tennis town (though it supports a Tire II nicely) but it is an event town.

What this shows is that the WTA stars are not so big that they can just show up and people will buy tickets. The stars will come out for the final as long as one of the Williams sisters is in it, but a first round match? The organizers clearly didn't understand their audience, the demand, ot the impact of an empty arena on TV.

Deplorable

bis2806
Nov 10th, 2002, 02:05 AM
Lindsay Davenport definitely has more power than Jen cap

tennischick
Nov 10th, 2002, 02:26 AM
wow, finally an article by Selena Roberts that i actually agree with. so incredibly honest and true. the WTA has a serious problem. let's of course see how the men do in Shanghai next week before making comparisons. but i have a sneaky feeling that more then 200 tennis lovers will show up! :eek:

thanks for posting Sophie...;) ;)

tennischick
Nov 10th, 2002, 02:50 AM
Players struggle to reach finish line after long season

By Steve Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For the WTA it is their showcase event, the fifth grand slam, a $3 million extravaganza designed to bring the season to a glitzy climax.

For the 16 players competing at the WTA Championships it is little more than the finish line to a marathon that cannot be reached soon enough.

Their body language and exhausted tone says it all, the grind of an almost never-ending season written across weary faces and slumped shoulders.

More exhaustion than excitement has been on display at the Staples Center, many players having all but shut down their seasons after the U.S. Open and now trying to rev up their engines for one more event.

The WTA's top attraction, world number one Serena Williams, withdrew from tournaments in Filderstadt, Zurich and Linz citing fatigue while sibling and world number two Venus came home to the U.S. after the Kremlin Cup in Moscow in early October.

American Monica Seles did not even attempt to make the trip to Europe for the indoor campaign while Australian Open champion Jennifer Capriati said she wished she had not after winning just one match at three events.

"It's been a really long year and the end of the year is always especially tough," said Serena Williams, who can become the first woman to win $4 million in a single season if she can successfully defend her WTA crown.

"It's like one more tournament, one more match and that can get you crazy.

"I was on the verge of that in Germany and had to take a little break and step back."

Certainly no player is looking forward to the end of the campaign more than Jelena Dokic, who is appearing in her 29th event, as many as Serena (13) and Venus (16) combined.

Having won just two matches in her previous five events, the 19-year-old Yugoslavian arrived in Los Angeles looking as if she was already packed for her holiday and an escape from the constant questions about her controversial father.

But a surprise win over Russia's Anastasia Myskina set up a quarter-final meeting with Serena Williams, slightly delaying her plans for a break.

LONG SEASON

"It's 11 months of tennis and only one month rest, which is not really enough," said Dokic, adding she will drastically reduce her schedule next season. "It's a very long season, there are just so many big tournaments that you can't go to them all.

"You have the clay, the hard courts and everything. You have to warm up before the grand slams.

"Maybe it should be looked into shortening the schedule. I think a lot of players are getting tired and injured.

"Mentally I'm feeling it much more than physically. It's hard to fight out there when you play so many matches and tournaments," said Dokic.

"The last five or six tournaments are hard because your mind isn't on the court so much."

Even Lindsay Davenport, who did not begin her season until July while she recovered from knee surgery, felt the effects of a demanding schedule, bringing down the curtain on her campaign with a first-round loss to Seles.

"It's just a bit of a relief that this year and fall are just kind of over," said American Davenport. "It's been a tough couple of months and I look forward to a break and then coming back and trying to play at a higher level and be a little mentally fresher."

If attendances at the Championships are any barometer, the U.S. public is also tired of tennis.

Through the first three days of the event the vast majority of matches have been played in front of a few hundred spectators sprinkled across the cavernous Staples Center, which holds close to 20,000 when the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers hold court.
The sparse attendance has created a sleepy atmosphere, reflecting the energy level of most of the players.

"The season is very long, everyone is tired," said Henin, who ran out of fuel when she slumped to a 6-2 6-1 quarter-final defeat by fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters.

"When you're in the top 16 it means you play a lot of matches and there are many players I saw tired.

"We don't have any choice, it's like this and we have to go until the end."

source: yahoo tennis

the cat
Nov 10th, 2002, 03:24 AM
These women don't play nearly enough as Billie Jean King or Margaret Court used to! :eek: And they all make out their own schedules. Thus, they should play a wiser schedule that won't leave them so tired at the end of the year.

Brian Stewart
Nov 10th, 2002, 07:29 AM
I think Ms. Roberts is just mad because the tournament moved to LA. Her points don't stand up. Kournikova and Hingis have missed extensive periods the past couple of years, yet the tour keeps setting attendance records. Contrary to what the detractors of the tour say, it's not about promoting sex. The product always has been tennis, first and foremost. And the women have had a great product. The problem was that the women always got second-class treatment from the tennis media. Always shoved into the background. Any coverage other than the late rounds of slams were usually fluff pieces focusing on... the glitz and glamour of the women. In other words, the very same stuff they are chastising the WTA for using now.

So the WTA decided to beat them at their own game. They used the glamour and sex appeal of its players to draw interest. It's really an old business practice. Find a way to bring people in to see your product. Once they're in the door, a quality product will keep them around. That's what the WTA has done. If they didn't have a quality product (the tennis), interest in the tour would have faded as quickly as it built up. It hasn't.

So it's not surprising that some tennis media are hollering for the WTA to get away from the glamour thing, and stick to "just the tennis". These writers are losing their ability to shape the opinions of others. They are losing power, and they don't like it. An example of this from another sport is the BCS in college football. Writers complained about the whole idea from day one. Why? Because it reduced the importance of their votes in polls. Loss of power. That's why they similarly ridiculed any computerized ranking formulas over the years.

Getting to the item in the second article, I disagree with the notion that the USA is tired of tennis. I say that the USA at large is unaware of tennis after the US Open. TV coverage is next to non-existent, and you're certainly not going to get any regular WTA coverage on SportsCenter, no matter how popular it gets (short of a tour sponsor actually buying airtime for a "tennis update"). For all the public knows, the few telecasts that are aired in the fall are exhibitions.

Bright Red
Nov 10th, 2002, 12:30 PM
I think it's taken time for LA to become aware of the event--and TV Land, too. I hadn't seen many advertisements for it anywhere (and I still don't see any).

While the crowd may have been sparse earlier in the week, last night there were considerably more than a "few hundred" spectators of the Serena Dokic match.

Rollo
Nov 10th, 2002, 12:50 PM
I think record attendence levels for the WTA (and ATP too)are misleading. Most of that comes from increases in recent years from "mixed" events, where ALL the spectators who come are counted towards both tours totals.

Brian's got a point about tennis basically being over after the US Open here in the US. It would help if the women had a series of events leading up to the finale. Philadelphia before New York was perfect because the events were close and the media overlapped.
It needs a permanent home, that's for sure.

LA may or may not be a good tennis town, but holding the event in a 20,000 seat arena doesn't make for a good atmosphere. Nobody-not the sisters. Monica, Jen-whoever, can sell out an arena of that size for a regular tour event.


At least the night crowds have gotten better. In a smaller stadium
(even a 10,000 seat one) these crowds wouldn't look so poor.

tennischick
Nov 10th, 2002, 03:49 PM
but even the Sisters plus Monica plus Jen have not succeeded in selling out this event. is it a marketing problem? a boredom problem? a lack of interest post the US Open problem? what's wrong and how can it be fixed by next year? that's what i'm interested to know.

bobcat
Nov 10th, 2002, 06:50 PM
Well, one thing they can do is lower the ticket prices for the early round matches. I was shocked to learn that the first round night matches cost the same as the women's semis and finals! Who in their right might would pay the same price for a first round match as they would for the semis or finals?

the cat
Nov 11th, 2002, 01:19 AM
TC, that was a fine article by Selena Roberts! And since she is a fine tennis journalist that is to be expected! :)

But TC, how did you read the sunday New York Times Sports section on saturday? :confused: Because when you posted your reply it was still saturday! How did you pull this one off?