TV ratings for U.S. Open finals, asterisks for Murray? More mail
Serena Williams-Victoria Azarenka women's final drew more viewers than men's
The circumstances are hard to compare, but Monday finals are bad for the event
Revisiting the debate for best players never to win a major, more from the Mailbag
Another case of burying the lede: 16 million watched Andy Murray vs. Novak Djokovic but 17.7 million watched Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka in the U.S. Open finals. Does this bolster the notion that women should continue to earn as much as the men, or do we chalk this up to the Monday vs. Sunday broadcast?
-- Chris, Broomfield, Colo.
• This bolsters the notion that ratings can be misleading. We work on the assumption that the job of the publicist is to present the rosiest picture imaginable, cherry-picking some data points and ignoring others. But these numbers had me scratching my head. Let's be clear: 17.7 million viewers didn't watch the match, per se. They tuned in at some point. Given that you had a women's match that followed the popular NFL, preceded the popular 60 Minutes AND exceeded its time window, I'm not sure how meaningful that figure is. Likewise, the men's match spanned five hours and bled into Monday prime time. How many viewers were looking for 2 Broke Girls or whatever and happened to tune in?
More sobering -- if more honest -- framing: The women's final averaged a 3.9 rating, and the men's averaged a 2.3 rating, the second lowest ever. I don't discount the Serena effect and don't want to diminish her effect on the ratings. But as Chris notes, you can't really compare a Sunday sporting event with a sporting event that begins on Monday afternoon -- and isn't even carried by all the network's affiliates. (Bottom line: These Monday finals are toxic.)
Murray dropped off his résumé on my desk. He had an asterisk on two of his titles: Next to Olympic gold 2012, it stated Rafael Nadal skipped the Games and that Roger Federer was exhausted due to a four-and-a-half-hour semifinal the day before. Next to his U.S. Open 2012 victory, it stated that once again Nadal did not participate and that Djokovic had the disadvantage of a day's rest before the final as opposed to two days off for Murray. Is Murray being too harsh on himself or will Nadal's return expose him as a one-Slam winner?
-- Tina Wilson, Los Angeles
• Funny, the résumé he dropped with me made no such mention. And I when I looked it up on Google -- the inevitable next step after receiving a résumé -- I saw that he beat the seven players placed before him. Which is all we ask.
I don't disagree that players have had tougher draws. But A) I don't go for this asterisk business much. B) In his fifth Grand Slam final -- a month removed from defeating Federer on Centre Court -- Murray toppled the defending champ in five sets. That ought to douse any discussion that this was somehow less than legit.
Here are some numbers furthering the conversation on Serena's greatness: Major Finals Winning Percentage: Martina Navratilova (56%), Chris Evert (53%), Steffi Graf (71%), Serena (79%). Major Tournaments won vs. Total Tournaments won Percentage: Navratilova (11%), Evert (11%), Graf (21%), Serena (33%). I understand that Navratilova, Evert and Graf played many more tournaments during their careers but these numbers look pretty darn good!
-- A.K. Saleem, Edmond, Okla.
• Thanks. We could quibble with some of this. (If Evert and Navratilova were contemporaries, wouldn't we expect their numbers to be lower? And Serena played much fewer events on average each year, so wouldn't we expect her winning percentage to be higher?) But the more data, the better ...
Why do you omit David Nalbandian in the short list of candidates for best active males never to have won a major? You listed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Robin Soderling (in that order) for that double-edged honor, but why look over Nalbandian?
-- Joanna, Seoul, Korea
• I think it's semantics. For the dubious honor of best active players never to have won a major, isn't there an assumption that it's still possible? In the case of Nalbandian, his best days are -- by, like, a decade -- behind him. This is the same reason I put Tsonga (one major final) above Soderling (two major finals). Judges?
Best player never to reach a major final? I'd take Nikolay Davydenko over Ferrer. Same number of Slam semis (4), one more quarterfinal (6), three Masters wins (and a 3-0 record in Masters finals), 1 ATP World Tour finals title and 5 years finished in the top 5 (vs. 3 for Ferrer). Plus, Davydenko leads their head-to-head 3-2. The way Ferrer's playing, he could easily eclipse Davydenko's stats in the next couple of years. But I say Davydenko has the edge for now. Tim Henman has a good case too.
-- Nick Einhorn, Brooklyn, N.Y.
• See above.
Since I know you love these Hall of Fame questions ... Is Murray a lock now that he won the U.S. Open (let's say he doesn't win another and never reaches No. 1)?
-- Gene, Metuchen, N.J.
• Given the "One Slam and a bit more" precedent, how could you deny Murray? One Slam title and four other finals. Semis or better at all four. Olympic gold. A bunch of Masters titles. Good record against the other Big Four members. It sounds silly: By winning the U.S. Open he guaranteed himself Hall of Fame enshrinement. But, again, given the current requirements, how could he be denied?
How about that men's final for "greatest match ever"? Truly inhuman shotmaking and defense, 50-plus-shot rallies AND balls being blown hither and yon in the wind. And enough momentum swings to render even the hardiest Scots comatose toward the end.
-- Rick, Albuquerque, N.M.
• Too many lopsided sets. Too many errors. Too many lapses. Insufficient fifth-set drama. Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed the match immensely. But even for the "Men's Grand Slam Final of the Year" award, I pick Australia over the U.S. Open.
• Mauricio of Sao Paulo, Brazil, wrote: "So it seems we are officially back to the '80s in men's tennis. We have a 30-plus-year-old still winning Slams and reclaiming No. 1 (Federer/Connors), we have the clay king facing a possible early retirement (Nadal/Borg), a unique character putting on one of the best seasons of all time (Djokovic 2011/McEnroe 1984), and now we have the stoic, less celebrated player among the Big Four breaking through at a Grand Slam after losing his first four major finals (Murray/Lendl). Interesting how history has a way of repeating itself."
Another good one came from Andy J. of Thessaloniki, Greece: "Lendl not only lost his first four major finals but he also, like Murray, had to beat a five-time Slam champion (McEnroe) to win his first final."
And let's pause to discuss how cool this is: We had bits of tennis trivia come in on the same night from Oslo, Sao Paulo and Salonika. How many other sports can say that?
• Venus Williams leads the D.C. Kastles to World TeamTennis glory.
• The controversy with Indian Tennis continues to build.
• Not to be outdone, we have Davis Cup drama in Argentina.
• Ivan H. of New York: "Here's a link to a fun little photo project I put together recently. It's called tennis hands."
• This week's sports book recommendation: When Saturday Mattered Most.
• Tim, Hopkinton, Massachusetts: "I found myself in Toronto on a business trip this week and, since it's film festival week, went to see the premiere of the Venus and Serena documentary. It was excellent. The filmmakers had virtually unlimited access and we got an amazing behind-the-scenes look at their lives and their tumultuous 2011 season. I only wish that Venus and Serena had attended. During the Q&A session, the filmmakers said that they were 'still reacting' to it, implying that they weren't happy with the final cut. Had they been there, however, they would have been able to experience the audience's reaction. You could literally feel the sense of admiration of their struggle and accomplishments coming from everyone in the room.
"And it would have been great from them to have heard Wyclef's (he did the soundtrack) response when asked what he felt about the story. 'It's a story of TRIUMPH, man (mon?),' he said. And that 'everyone should leave here feeling like they have a battery pack on their backs ... full of energy and feeling like they can do anything.' Wyclef got a rousing ovation for his comments. I can only imagine how we would have reacted to seeing Venus and Serena on stage immediately after the film, but I do know that they would have been overwhelmed to see and feel the audience's reaction. Just a wonderful film, and a must-see for any tennis fan. Triumph, mon."
• Venus and Serena withdrew their support for this movie.
• The USTA announced that U.S. Open attendance topped 700,000 for the fifth time, finishing at 710,803.
• Israeli tennis aficionado and occasional Dirk Nowtizki hitting partner Marc Stein (known in his more solemn moments as Frank M. Stein) points out: "Israeli No. 2 Amir Weintraub led his country into Davis Cup World Group with a pair of wins over Japan's Tatsuma Ito (67) and Go Soeda (53). All five of his career tour-level wins have come in Davis Cup. Others: Milos Raonic (31), Federico Gil (84), Jerzy Janowicz (156)."
• Remember our note about Kim Clijsters warming up Kirsten Flipkens at the U.S. Open? Seems it paid off.
• Good Q&A with Novak Djokovic.
• Here's some perspective on Andy Murray from India.
• Troy of Fort Wayne, Ind: "One thing I noticed that has not been mentioned yet is another 'milestone' for Serena Williams: She surpassed the $40 million mark in career prize earnings. Given her 45 career titles, that averages out to a whopping $888,888.89 (rounded up on the pennies) per title lifetime average. Pretty amazing numbers."
Have a good week, everyone!
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