It has become fashionable to speculate about tennis' failure to thrive on television. It is a fast, elementary game played in a compact area by men whose faces and form are highly visible. Yet even with these photogenic advantages, tennis has never made a good partner for TV. Probably this has something to do with the nature of the game—as a spectator sport, it tends to be repetitious—but even more with the intramural feuds that keep it from producing new American stars.
In spite of this, however, tennis is increasing in popularity and will be a more regular television entry. The educational network already is a strong supporter of the sport. CBS is telecasting the U.S. Open for the fifth straight year and Lamar Hunt's World Championship of Tennis has sold rights to its playoff final in November to an independent network. Specifically to better accommodate television, WCT has restructured its 1972 schedule so that its "season" will end late in the spring.
Despite yet another all-Australian final in the U.S. Open last year, CBS saw the rating go up on the final day to 5.0, which is about what a run-of-the-mill golf tournament draws. This year's three Open telecasts (Sept. 4, 11, 12) were sold out to sponsors well in advance, and a couple of weeks ago CBS also telecast a promotional teaser to the Open. The CBS qualifying procedures were carefully worked out so that three of the four players had to be the biggest names—Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver and John Newcombe.
The matches were played on the slow clay at Hilton Head, S.C. with Bud Collins and Donald Dell as commentators. They got no help from the camera work, which was static and unimaginative, or from the Australians, who were their usual dispassionate selves. Collins, a columnist for The Boston Globe and a former college coach ( Abbie Hoffman was his first team captain), seemed somewhat more subdued than usual, but he is as adept at describing tennis as any announcer in sport. He is well informed, light and irreverent, and is unmatched when it comes to interviewing. He is not afraid to kid the players or dispute them when they give some silly stock answer.
Dell is adequate enough at the mike—if perhaps too grave—but he was an inexcusable choice. He is Ashe's agent and the man who put the tournament together. Jack Kramer and Ann Haydon Jones will work with Collins at Forest Hills. The best thing they will have going for them is an engaging, handsome, well-spoken group of athletes. CBS would be foolhardy not to provide more time for Collins' interviews.