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The Williams soap opera (pt. 3)

Posted: Wednesday April 9, 2008 11:34AM; Updated: Wednesday April 9, 2008 12:06PM
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Mono or not, Roger Federer has exited early in all four events he has played so far in '08.
Mono or not, Roger Federer has exited early in all four events he has played so far in '08.
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Why is Miami being called the fifth major? Shouldn't the Masters Cup be considered the fifth-most important tournament? Why not Indian Wells, which also has a draw of 96 players? After this year, Rome will be the only clay-court Masters, so why not Rome?
-- Barney, Seattle

Obviously this is a mythical title. People are free to call the Quebec City Open the "fifth Slam" if they're so inclined. I think Miami got this designation because it most closely approximates the vibe of a Slam. The event lasts longer than a week. There's a big draw. Men and women play simultaneously. There's an urban, hip host city. The shaky women's field (and the resort community setting) disqualifies Indian Wells. In Rome and Canada, the men and women don't play simultaneously.

Can you use your immense clout with the ATP to get them to live stream more doubles matches? I mean, after James Blake vs. Rafael Nadal last Wednesday afternoon, was there a down side to showing Bryan-Bryan vs. Aspelin-Knowle? (I could have enjoyed Damm-Vizner vs. Gasquet-Tsonga while Blake was playing Nadal, but I know when it comes to doubles I shouldn't get crazy.)
-- Alistair W., Toronto

I have immense clout with the ATP the way tennis has immense clout with ESPN. But your suggestion is well-taken and I think it's only a matter of time until it comes to fruition. Someone will plant two cameras on the back courts and stream the live video. Even if a relatively modest crowd will pay to watch that third doubles match, it's basically free money for the rights holder.

Who would you say are the most powerful people in tennis?
-- Alice, Los Angeles

Every once in a while, publications put out these rankings. Apart from being entirely subjective, they always seem to me to be a bit short-sighted. I think the truly relevant question is: "Who are the most powerful people outside of tennis who can help nourish the sport?" The network executive who decides whether or not to air tennis is ultimately more powerful than the tournament executive. (The television debacle these past few weeks make this point.)

The Nike taste-makers deciding whether or not to cut the endorsement check (and fund the tennis-themed commercial) are more important than the agent negotiating the deal. The sporting-good chains deciding whether to give rackets prominent in-store placement matter every bit as much as the racket manufacturer. That kind of thing.

Also, one could make a list with the usual suspects: the two tour heads, the various Grand Slam chieftains, the ITF head, Greg Sharko and so forth. But really, the players rule. By every conceivable metric, Maria Sharapova, Federer and the Williams sisters et al hold more sway than any "suit." The players are the lifeblood of any sport. But it's especially pronounced in tennis.

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