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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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Tennis needs to get hip. Imagine this: You go to a tournament, and before a match you hear rock music blasting from the speakers. An emcee gives each player a lengthy introduction worthy of a prizefighter. Two players come out in baggy shorts and Day-Glo T-shirts. They play before a crowd that moves around freely and cheers during points.

It could happen. Truth to tell, World TeamTennis has taken this kind of approach for years. After two decades of shunning King's pet project because of its commercialism, mainstream tennis authorities seem ready to steal from it. Fan ennui has driven the ATP, WTA and ITF to discuss how to give tennis more bang for the buck. The ATP has already staged promotional stunts and fan-participation events at tournaments, and it will experiment with free crowd circulation, music and on-court couching this year. "These guys have laughed at Billie Jean for years," says Evert. "It turns out she was right."

Myth: The sound of a beer cup falling can cause a double fault. Enough with the princess-and-the-pea conditioning. If players want utter quiet, they should play in an air lock.

As for dress codes, bag 'em. Clone the Jensens. Brothers and doubles partners Luke and Murphy Jensen, who wear bowling shirts, slouch socks and black high-tops and have long hair and goatees, have become matinee idols even though they've won only one major title, last year's French Open doubles.

9) Give it some gas.

No sporting event should last more than three hours, particularly one that has so little live action. Why do players need 25 seconds between points to collect themselves? The game was better when play was continuous. Why not put a time clock on the court? If a player doesn't get his serve off in 15 seconds, he loses the point.

Also, take away the chairs. A player doesn't need to sit down at every changeover while one ball boy holds an umbrella over his head and another pours the Evian.

10) Spread the wealth.

The president of the U.S. Tennis Association, J. Howard (Bumpy) Frazer, was asked what his organization is doing to promote tennis among minorities.

"Well, we have a committee," he said.

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