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THE SORRY STATE OF TENNIS
Sally Jenkins
May 09, 1994
Fans are bored, TV ratings are down, equipment sales are soft, and most pros seem to be prima donnas who don't care about anything but money. What can be done to save this sinking sport?
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May 09, 1994

The Sorry State Of Tennis

Fans are bored, TV ratings are down, equipment sales are soft, and most pros seem to be prima donnas who don't care about anything but money. What can be done to save this sinking sport?

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The enigmatic Courier doesn't emote either. That's fine too; Joe Montana doesn't spill his emotions all over the field. But there's a difference between not emoting and being opaque.

Nike's ad campaigns are proof that everyone can have personality. Courier has become a more accessible figure through his candid TV ads, which are part of his five-year, $16 million contract with Nike. A TV campaign will certainly emerge from the deal that Sampras just signed with Nike, which will pay him a reported $18 million over the next live years. But it's ridiculous for the public to have to watch commercials to get to know the players. Surely they can give a little more to the crowds in the stands.

Try this: At every event, spectators find lottery numbers in their programs. The winner gets to go down on the court and attempt to return a star player's serve.

"I could do that," Sampras says.

6) Crack down on tanking.

It happens. Everybody knows it. Sergi Bruguera of Spain, the reigning French Open champion, has given a number of efforts that seemed halfhearted at best. He was, for example, suspected of tanking at last year's U.S. Open. Trailing countryman Javier Sánchez two sets to love in the first round, Bruguera sank like a stone in the third set. Recently Ukraine's Natalia Medvedeva lost 6-4, 6-0 to Chanda Rubin in the quarters of a Virginia Slims event. Afterward Medvedeva admitted that she had dumped the last couple of games. "I didn't give up until probably 4-0," she says. She was not fined.

"I think [tanking is] becoming more prevalent." says the Ill's Tobin. As for the ATP, its ranking system practically asks players to tank. The system tabulates only a player's best 14 tournament results over the previous 52 weeks, allowing him to throw out his worst results. The formula was designed to encourage players to play more; in fact, it takes the sting out of losing. What's to prevent a player from accepting a tournament's six-figure guarantee, tanking in the first round and then jetting off to appear in a lucrative exhibition the following week?

The only thing that should be tanked is the best-of-14 rule.

Those six-figure guarantees provide an even bigger incentive for players to give less than their all. True story: Sampras received a staggering $500,000 guarantee just to play a tournament in Qatar early this year. He cavalierly flew in the night before his first-round match and lost to a Moroccan qualifier named Karim Alami, who was ranked 205th in the world. Sampras, who is hardworking and decent, apologized for not being better prepared. Still, he didn't give the money back.

Another true story: Agassi got his own six-figure guarantee to play a tournament last year in Halle, Germany. Like Sampras in Qatar, Agassi went down in the first round. Why not? The winner's check for the tournament was only $50,000.

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