Announced By the United States Tennis Association, the formation of the U.S. Open Series, which will consolidate the North American hard-court events that precede the USTA's signature event, the U.S. Open. The USTA's ability to bring the men's and women's tours, four television networks and 10 independently owned and operated tournaments to the table and come away with a cohesive summer circuit makes for a remarkable feat of diplomacy. No sport is more divided than tennis, the constituents being an impossibly variegated mix of federations, promoters, management groups, tours and players whose interests are seldom aligned. (When the two tours issued a joint media guide for 2004, it was hailed as a major collaborative effort.) But using the television rights to the Open as leverage, the USTA persuaded CBS and ESPN to devote more than 100 hours of coverage to the series and to air the finals at a consistent time. "If you know that late afternoons every Sunday you can watch live tennis," says Arlen Kantarian, the USTA's chief executive for professional tennis, "that goes a long way toward building fans." The series is also a boon for players: The top three finishers on the circuit will earn as much as $1.3 million in bonus money. "[It's] exactly what tennis needs," says Venus Williams.
Tennis being tennis, not everyone will be thrilled, not least the European players and promoters who feel the schedule is already too deferential to American television interests. There is also concern that the other Grand Slams will follow the USTA's template—don't be surprised if the spring European clay court events become a French Open Series—which could put smaller tournaments out of business. Still, anything that unifies a notoriously fractured sport while improving its television packaging has to be applauded.