Hey, did you know the US Open is starting next week?
Thats right, one of the worlds most prestigious tennis tournaments, one of the four Grand Slam events and I would wager the biggest sporting event held annually in New York City, is set to kick off Monday with first-round play.
You know what else? I dont think anyone gives a furry rats behind.
Tennis, a sport which has steadily declining in popularity over the past several years, is seemingly at its lowest point in years. That the US Open is receiving such frighteningly little buzz is only adding to the woes of a sport that no longer captures the attention of the American public.
To compound matters further, the most dominant player in the sport on either the mens or womens side, Serena Williams, the defending US Open champ, has pulled out of the tournament this year because of a nagging knee injury that required surgery.
In most sports when a player as dominant as Serena Williams pulls out of a tournament, the field would be considered wide open. But in tennis, particularly womens tennis, the field always seems top heavy, with only a handful of players capable of running the table to win the tournament.
With Serena Williams out, her sister Venus chances of winning another Grand Slam tournament are greatly improved, having lost to Serena in the finals of both Wimbeldon and the US Open last year. But Venus also has her own physical ailment to deal with, a recurring abdominal injury.
There are a few other female participants not to be discounted, including Justine Henin-Hardenn, Kim Clijsters, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and Chanda Rubin. The odds are one of those mentioned above will walk away from Flushing Meadows with the 2003 title. Its not a lock, but unknowns seldom win on the pro tour, especially in the womens bracket.
That Serena Williams, the most prominent name in the sport, is unable to defend her crown is certainly a blow to the tournament, both for ratings and general interest. However, play may turn out to be more competitive and a new champ will undoubtedly be crowned.
But I cant escape the thought that it just seems more people are interested in running over to Arthur Ashe Kids Day Saturday to catch a glimpse of the so-called Lolita of womens tennis, Anna Kournikova, who still hasnt won a singles tournament, but probably makes more money that anyone else on the tour in endorsements alone.
And who says looks dont matter?
As for the mens draw, well, there could not be less enthusiasm in it if the United States Tennis Association tried intentionally to make the sport the most boring on the planet. I know thats not fair, but there is no juice at all in the mens draw, no excitement and hardly a household name in the lot.
Incredibly, the official US Open Web site has Andre Agassi listed as the front-runner to win the trophy. Agassi already had two US Open crowns to his credit and three other appearances in the championship match, losing all three including last years to longtime rival Pete Sampras.
Sampras, the all-time leader in Grand Slam victories on the mens tour, made a spectacular comeback a year ago to stun the tennis world by finding the skill that had seemingly abandoned him in recent years to reclaim his place among the worlds elite. But Sampras, like Serena Williams, is not competing this year, knocking out at least the possibility of rooting for the sentimental favorite.
Agassis up and down career has provided millions with thrills over the years, but I just dont see the Las Vegas native making a run and riveting the public again. Not that he is incapable of some great tennis, but even if he wins the things, I just dont see a lot of people caring too much.
You may have heard of some of the players the experts are expecting to make a push toward the championship, but I dont know if any can truly inspire the imagination of a dwindling tennis fan base, not to mention the casual fan.
Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Sjeng Schalke, Marat Safin, Fernando Gonzalez and Mark Philippoussis highlight the rest of the field.
Hewitt, who won Wimbeldon in 2001 but was shut out at all three previous Grand Slam events this year, is a good bet to be there at the end, while Roddick, an American with a blistering serve, has yet to win his first Grand Slam but seems long overdue.
Unlike the womens field, the mens draw always seems to produce a dark horse or two. My pick as the sentimental favorite has to be Michael Chang, the former No. 2 player in the world who won his first Grand Slam at the age of 17, besting Ivan Lendl in the French Open. Chang, who made the cut as a wild card entry, has said he is retiring after the US Open.
But no matter how good the story line or how compelling the drama, without the crossover interest from the hardcore tennis fan to the average Joe on the street, this years US Open seems like a snooze fest, unless of course Kournikova can keep from getting eliminated in the first round again.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2003 Community News Group
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