The Issue of More Combined Events
Posted: Thu July 1,
Frank Deford is working his third Wimbledon as a commentator and essayist for HBO Sports. Check out HBO's Wimbledon coverage from noon-5 p.m. ET, with a highlights show each night at 7 p.m. ET.
It wasn't that many years ago when women's tennis was about as popular as men's striptease. But hey, you never know. First, The Full Monty started packing 'em in, and now women's tennis is so chic that the men have made overtures to the ladies to, please, start playing more mixed tournaments with us. And it's hard to find a red-blooded guy who doesn't want more double-dating.
Pete Sampras says, "It's what the game needs to get all the players together. Obviously, the Grand Slams, that's the main focus. But to have Palm Springs, Lipton, Rome, and Hamburg. And to get the men and ladies. The media would be a little bit more into it. I think it would be good for the game." Agassi adds, "You gotta think about the spectators. You gotta think about what they want. And it's a nice balance when you go out there and you see two big hitters and then you see a really thought-out, strategic women's match."
Even if more and more people are for the concept of a few more mixed major tournaments like Wimbledon, logistics are a problem. You need a site with more courts and larger facilities, a sponsor which markets to men and women alike, and the potential to make more money at one tournament than what currently is being made at two. But also, as Venus Williams maintains, "The ladies should do what's to their advantage and not just because, hey, we can play with the men."
That means that the women, who have been split by mean in-fighting, are now more unified behind their new WTA Tour CEO, Bartlett McGuire, and are looking for equality as the price for tournament union. He says, "We have to make sure that if we do combine more events there are fair terms for the women. Prize money, center-court appearances, television appearances, practice facilities, locker-room facilities. There are a lot of issues that have to be addressed."
The women suddenly have almost all the stars and the charm. Mr. McGuire again: "In Grand Slam after Grand Slam, over the last year and a half, the women have stood up very favorably and indeed more favorably. At the French Open this year, the rating for the women's final was substantially higher than the combined rating of the men's final and the mixed doubles final."
And, of course, one more attraction. Mixed doubles isn't just business.
Jim Courier said, "There's a lot of cross-tour dating going on right now which I'm, by the way, not participating in. It seems that the players may be very supportive of bringing some of the major tournaments together." Iva Majoli may be one that agrees. "That wouldn't be too bad, you know. Some action."