No one came out of last week's Flushing Meadow episode clean. Even Blake, who refused to condemn Hewitt, was fending off accusations from black journalists that he was something of an Uncle Tom for letting Hewitt off the hook. However, Blake, 21, a former Harvard student who learned the game in Harlem and is ranked No. 95, kept his head. "If something clear-cut happens, I'm going to speak out," he said last Saturday. "I don't feel it's the time."
The USTA Reaches Out
A New Opening For the Open
Of all tennis's alphabet-soup organizations, none has an image as retrograde as the U.S. Tennis Association's. No one looks to the USTA for leadership or new ideas, unless you consider charging $750 for a cheeseburger cutting-edge.
Now, however, from the USTA of all places comes one of the most intriguing proposals pro tennis has seen in years. Dangling the U.S. Open as bait, USTA chief executive Arlen Kantarian is floating the idea of creating a late-summer North American tour of combined men's and women's tournaments, each paying equal prize money to males and females, and bundling them in a television package that will, as he puts it, "relaunch the sport in the United States."
The timing couldn't be better. With the ATP's marketing in disarray, the women's tour still seeking a replacement for outgoing CEO Bart McGuire and the Open's cable and network television deals scheduled to expire in 2002 and '03, respectively, the tours and the Open face an uncertain future. Kantarian's view—radical in the splintered world of pro tennis—is that they should face the challenge together.
Kantarian points to the two successful spring tournaments in which both men and women compete, Indian Wells and the Ericsson, as the model. He has contacted the WTA, the ATP, IMG (owner of six U.S. tournaments) and Octagon (which represents many top players), and their responses have given him hope that a consensus can be reached on the next step.
Few tennis insiders disagree with Kantarian's view that the sport needs to take advantage of its growing popularity, but some suggest practical considerations like facilities, draw size, sponsorships and conflicting schedules make implementation of his plan daunting. Others wonder if this is just a USTA bid to take over American pro tennis. "There's a lot of suspicion," says Octagon president of athlete representation Phil de Picciotto, "but the U.S. Open has great leveraging power and unifying power. If there's a time to do it, it's now."
That everybody is willing to consider the USTA's idea is remarkable. "Tennis doesn't have an idea problem," says Kantarian. "It has a get-it-done problem. Let's put the appropriate parties on the same page and get it done. People are saying that now. We'll find out if they're for real."