Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tennis’s downfall amid the current dearth of American stars; Shame on me for tuning to ESPN Radio this morning

Two days ago I was getting ready to make my weekly appearance on “Washington Post Live,” which airs locally on Comcast SportsNet.

I enjoy doing the show and like the people I work with on it—both in front of and behind the camera. My only complaint—as with just about all media outlets in Washington—is the Redskins obsession. Every day of the year—not the season, the YEAR, there is a required, sponsored (of course) Redskins segment.

On Tuesday, Ivan Carter who hosts the show was going through the show rundown with me and with Charlie Casserly, who was the other guest that day. Since it was the day after Maryland-Navy and Boise State-Virginia Tech, there was a segment on those games. There was, of course, the Redskins segment and another on the NFL and a separate segment (God help us all) on Albert Haynseworth. Finally, Ivan brought up the last segment, which is called, ‘leftovers,’ quick items, quick comments on each.

One was that day’s Ryder Cup selections. There were two other football issues that were relevant. Finally, he said, “And Randy Moss is unhappy because he doesn’t think the Patriots are going to offer him a new deal at the end of the year.”

Really? Randy Moss is unhappy? Randy Moss wants a new contract? Has he left camp? No. Is he threatening to leave camp? No. He just says he doesn’t think the Patriots want him back. Well, that’s film at-11-stuff isn’t it? Moss is 33 and wants one last big contract AT THE END OF THE YEAR and this is news?

Of course it isn’t. So, I suggested instead we talk briefly about Patrick McEnroe stepping down as Davis Cup captain after 10 years and the fact that—in my opinion—Jim Courier should succeed him.

Ivan looked at me blankly. “You’re kidding? You think anyone cares about that?”

Casserly shook his head and said, “John, I work for CBS and they televise the (U.S.) Open but seriously, it’s TENNIS.”

I knew they weren’t wrong. I argued briefly that the show was already full of football and what was wrong with talking about tennis for THIRTY SECONDS?

I lost the argument.

Which, of course, gets back to what I keep saying over and over again: tennis has become nothing more than a niche sport. Even with the hours and hours of airtime ESPN is giving the Open, I’m not sure anyone other than Bud Collins and my friend Tom Ross is paying any attention. As I said last week, I’m SURE the USTA will announce record attendance and there will be all sorts of happy talk about how great the sport is doing but if anyone inside the sport every poked their head into Comcast Sports Net—or almost anywhere else—for a minute, they might be in for a rude awakening.

I am now firmly convinced that while some of this has to do with the sport’s complete mismanagement at the top—the people who run tennis remind me of something Lefty Driesell once said about one of this athletic directors: ‘the man could screw up a one-car funeral,’—it also has a LOT to do with the current dearth of American stars.

Oh sure, there are the Williams sisters on the women’s side but they simply don’t move the meter outside the tennis bubble. I once thought some of this might be racial but Tiger Woods has proven me wrong on that. We are (Thank God) finally at the point where most people don’t care what color you are as long as you can play and you can entertain them.

What’s more, the Williams’s have been around a long time now. People are always looking for the next thing, which is why there was so much swooning last year when Melanie Oudin made the quarterfinals. There’s also the grunting factor—especially with Venus. This may reflect a personal bias but the grunting/screaming makes me crazy. It is why, even though she can play and she’s gorgeous, I can’t watch Maria Sharapova play unless it is on TV and I can hit the mute button.

It may also have something to do with the fact that neither Williams sister has ever given an opponent credit after a loss.

Who knows? On the men’s side, there’s no one close to being as good as Venus or Serena. The current crop of American men have won ONE major—Andy Roddick’s 2003 U.S. Open. Roddick is now 28 and looks like he’s beginning to fade. James Blake, who never made it out of a quarterfinal at a major, has been beaten up by injuries. Mardy Fish has bloomed late into a top 20 player but no one thinks he’s going to win anything big and Sam Querrey has shown some promise but blew a serious chance to make the Open quarters. The new hot kid is Ryan Harrison, who won his first round match at the Open before blowing three match points and losing a fifth set tiebreak in the second round.

Then he walked off without signing any autographs for any kids or acknowledging the crowd which had cheered him on every point. Sounds like he’ll fit right in as a tennis player.

The point is this: The sport needs American stars. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are great champions and, apparently, pretty good guys. (I always believe Mary Carillo on these matters). But they don’t push the non-tennis-geek meter at all the way Tiger pushes the non-golf-geek meter off the charts or even a little bit. There have to be U.S. stars—real STARS—in both tennis and golf. Golf has plenty of them, tennis, right now, has none.

I’m not saying an American star would fix the ills of the game and the way it’s run but it would be a big step in the right direction. It might even get the sport 30 seconds of time on ‘Washington Post Live.’


I know I am a broken record not just sometimes but often on certain subjects—one being just how bad ESPN can be. It can also be good—like whenever anyone named McEnroe is talking about tennis or when Mike Tirico or Mike Patrick are doing play-by-play. And I like PTI whether I’m fighting with the hosts or not fighting with the hosts.

But the radio stuff is brutal—so shame on me for ever listening. That said, this morning I was en route to the pool when The Junkies went to a fantasy segment (I’d drive into a tree before I’d listen to that) and my two music stations were doing traffic and weather. I took a deep breath and turned to ESPN’s morning pitchmen (seriously, is there ANYTHING they don’t sell?).

They were trying to be funny. I should have gotten out while I still could. After they had made their NFL picks—or some of them, I really don’t know—they announced that next they were going to share with us the picks of their producer’s mother. This has become fairly common shtick on sports talk radio, having mothers or grandmothers or nuns make picks. It peaked four years ago when Tony Kornheiser’s producer’s mother picked George Mason to make The Final Four—and the Patriots made it.

What allegedly made THIS funny is that the producer is British—as is his mother. So, they played back tape of her picking The Browns in the AFC North—“I’ve never heard of them so why not?” (wow is THAT funny or what?) and asking her son if picking a 15-9 score in the Super Bowl was okay.

It was cringe-worthy and un-funny. That’s fine—that’s pretty much what that show is. I would love to hear though how smart the two pitchmen would sound if, say, someone called and asked them to analyze the cases The Supreme Court is going to take on when it goes into session this fall or make state-by-state predictions on the upcoming midterm elections.

That aside though, THIS is what killed me. “She’s WAY into the Jack Daniels at this time of the morning,” one said. “Oh yeah, the other said, probably on her second fifth.”

Really? First, she didn’t sound drunk at all to me. She just sounded like someone who didn’t know football and played along with a joke for her son’s sake. Second, if she WAS drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning or ANY morning (as they implied she was) that’s funny? Seriously? Making fun of someone’s clothes merits a two-week suspension but calling someone a drunk on the air, that’s funny.

Boy do I not get ESPN. Thank God for that.


Neil Pickett said...

I am very glad and relieved to know I am not the only person who is driven crazy by the grunting/screaming of women tennis players. Agree completely it makes them unwatchable. Too bad.

Anonymous said...

Great takes on both issues, John Junior.

1) ESPN Radio is absolutely abysmal all the way around. What are the four words you hear at the gates of hell? "Hey Golic! Hey Greeny!" I was hoping Snyder would suck it up and give Al Galdi the 6-10 M-F so we could get away from the insufferable M&M. Thank the Lord Czabe is going to be on local radio for the AM drive so now we'll have a legitimate go-to AM drive show. I know a lot of people like the Junkies, but I can't stand their FM shock jock-influenced shtick unless Bob Ehrlich is calling in his NFL picks.

And you are so right about Mike and Mike the pitchmen. 90% of the show is hawking products

And of course, Mr. Tony can make fun of Hannah Storm on a LOCAL show but when Mike and Mike are glorifying alcoholism and exaggerating stereotypes (Brits and booze), it's OK. They have products to sell. Joking about alcoholism with college kids is one thing. Doing it with grown adults is disgraceful and an embarrassment to his producer's mother. I wonder if she knew that they were joking about her being some two-bit drunk if she's be back on the air doing that lame skit. God, M&M are the dearth of sports radio.

2) I'm not a big tennis fan, but I make sure to check out the Open every year. The Williams sisters are now old news and people are just sick and freaking tired of Serena's act. Venus is a nice woman who isn't totally selfish like Serena who takes pride in extending her middle fingers to everyone on Planet Earth. A lot of people still like Venus. Serena? Not much so. Doesn't even respect the sport, cares more about her hideous fashion career than the sport, refuses to work hard except when it comes to partying with Hollywood types, etc.

Yes, the sport needs American stars. But not as much as it needs drop dead attractive chicks like Wozniacki kicking everyone's rear end. I could care less where they are from. On the men's side? Of course we need more Americans and not wussies like Roddick.

Anonymous said...

Other than football, ALL sports have become niche sports. Maybe the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has more than niche status, but the sport itself is certainly niche.

I think a big reason why the Williams sisters aren’t more popular outside tennis is because they come across as insincere. In their post-match interviews they seem fake to me and the next time they credit an opponent will be the first. Their father’s antics early in their career certainly did not help their public image. They also don’t seem to cultivate much in the way of public relations. I’m not saying this is bad. Thankfully they are upstanding people and don’t get into trouble off the courts. I just don’t think their personalities are warm enough to pull in casual observers of the sport.

I disagree with you about Mike Patrick. Nails on a chalkboard for me.

Rich, Denver

Mr. X said...


Get XM in your car post haste. It will prevent your from making the decision to listen to ESPN radio. I haven't tuned into them on purpose for the last 7 seven years.

Those jerks stole the Phil's Mom bit?!? Bunch of no talent hack sonsabitches.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. John, I'm afraid I have to apologize. People like me are the reason you're stuck talking about football all the time.

I want to be a more rounded sports fan. I try to care about all the other sports. Thanks to your books, I watch golf a little bit. And I'm a big Brewers fan (at least through July).

But once August comes around, if I'm on a local sports station and they're not talking Packers, I'm changing the station to one that is. And if they're not, I'll throw in some music. It's an all consuming obsession.

If the other sports want my attention they need to start sucking less. Baseball screws it up with the revenue disparities. College football with the lack of a playoff and the BCS. You mentioned the problems with Tennis. Boxing and MMA make me drop $50 just for the pleasure of watching their biggest stars. The NBA has too many primadonnas and meaningless regular season and corrupt officiating.

NFL is least until they screw it up next year with the lockout.


Gunnar said...

ESPN is brutal...Stu Scott and Chris Berman are channel changers for me. The people I like on there are unfortunately on the air the same time as those dummies, and other dummies. I really like Bob Ley, Linda Cohn, Tom Jackson, John Clayton, Mike Tirico, Herbstreit and Corso, and that is about it.

The NFL shows and others are way too busy, way too many graphics, and far too many people. Give me one or two voices of opinion, and lets play the game.

Tennis was pretty interesting in the 1980's, I always watched the majors. I could not name 10 men's players of the past 20 years. I could probably name 100 current players on the PGA tour. I didn't know Patrick McEnroe was the Davis Cup captain, and he has been in that role for an impressive 10 years. Tennis is off the map for most sports fans.

Thomas said...

John - I wholeheartedly agree with the tennis issues, and I'm sure that most agree. I thought of it last week when Roddick got a little grief for his temper tantrum on the court, and how some media (though very few mainstream actually pay attention) actually gave it a little play and got a little uppity about it. When I was young, and tennis was strong, there was good vs. evil, there was guys with personality, there were guys w/out personality, there was McEnroe (who in my view is tennis's version of Charles Barkley, as he can say almost anything because its John being John -- and that's a good thing in my eyes) who was polar opposites of Lendl and Edberg -- there was a little bit of everything. Because of the nature of sponsorships, of media, of PR coaches, and many more reasons, its almost like this just isn't possible and/or allowable anymore, which in turns kills it as a viewing sport for the general masses.

Which leads me to golf. We saw a little snippet of it while Tiger was on hiatus, and really and truly have seen it as he only plays in the min number of events, plus the majors, but the PGA Tour is on that slippery slope of going the way of tennis. The guys with personality are the Europeans, and we can only hope and wish that the Rickie Fowler's and Anthony Kim's show some personality because if not, there will be no hook for casual viewers.

As much credit as Finchem gets for growing purses (by way of Tiger Woods' coattails) and helping 'grow the game,' do you feel he (and other of the golf executive crew) has done enough to help transition to the younger guys, to show them the importance of showing some personality, of allowing people to be people instead of being walking billboards, of learning from other sport's mistakes such as tennis? He'd be naive to think that it all just works itself out.

And with both these sports, are the problems leadership, money, political correctness, the 24 hr media, all the above?

case said...

i love tennis, don't care if there is an american man at the top--when 2 were there,connors and mcenroe,i rooted against both boors,esp connors
it's fun to root for great players who behave well,fed and rafa
the us open is one of the best sporting events of the year,esp since i go to one of the first week's day sessions each year--never disappoints,even when the heat is brutal as it was this year

Anonymous said...

Here's another vote against Mike Patrick. His sappy style, inane comments, and bad jokes drive me crazy. My biggest problem with him is that he overreacts to any kind of rough play in football and basketball with the phrase, "there's no place for that in the game." Every hard foul should be flagrant according to him. Part of it, too, is that there is just something I find really annoying about his voice.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your criticism of the Williams sisters for not crediting opponents after a loss, but it is seems disingenuous when you also praise Roddick as such a great guy after his 2nd rnd loss last wk. Here are his post match comments:
"He (Tipsarevic) played very high risk and executed for four sets. I kept telling myself, 'This has to have an expiration date on it.'"
Sounds less like giving credit and more like he's saying Tipsarevic got lucky. You need to be more balanced in your criticism rather than playing favorites.

case said...

with your love of hoops, why no mention of the fiba world championships ?
you should at least have some bad words for espn which is putting the u s vs lithuania semi on saturday on the ever popular espn classic

Clipperton said...

I'm interested in the fact that whenever I hear or read statements like "tennis is a niche sport" or "tennis has become irrelevant" the sentence is never qualified by "in America." America's tennis tradition is rich and lengthy, but I honestly can't get myself to care whether other Americans are interested in the sport. Sure it would be nice to hear tennis highlights or hear a live tennis broadcast on the radio, but ESPN3 does a decent job of bringing me the matches at the majors and Masters tournaments and I can find European feeds for the rest.

I'm sure tennis players would love to have more interest from the largest economy in the world, but it's a bit of a reach to say tennis is a niche sport worldwide.

Anonymous said...


Your hate for ESPN clouds your otherwise insightful blogging.It doesn't matter what the hosts do--if the personalities aren't your personal friends, you feel the need to trash their professional work. But, if you're friends with them, you say they are fantastic. It's a foolish position to take. PTI is just as bad/good as any other show on there, but you're friends with Tony K., so you pretend that PTI somehow rises above the rest. Here's a newsflash for you--all the shows are pretty good and all the hosts are as well. You can't make it on the biggest sports network in the world without having a bit of talent. That's a fact, not an opinion based upon my like or dislike of any individual show. Grow up and quit acting like you're still in highschool and the bully is picking on you.

Chauncy said...

For the record, Kim Clijsters, the 2010 champion, doesn't grunt or squeal when she hits the ball...

Rulo said...

The problem with American tennis is it's the same personalities year after year. And, the people aren't compelling or sympathetic. I mean do you really want to cheer Serena Williams on? A player so self centered, as to never give an opponent an iota of credit for a match well played. Same can be said of sister, Venus. there is little to recommend either from a like ability standpoint. On the men's side we viewers are treated to Andy Roddick' boorish display in losing his second round US Open match.

Rulo said...

The problem with American tennis is it's the same personalities year after year. And, the people aren't compelling or sympathetic. I mean do you really want to cheer Serena Williams on? A player so self centered, as to never give an opponent an iota of credit for a match well played. Same can be said of sister, Venus. there is little to recommend either from a like ability standpoint. On the men's side we viewers are treated to Andy Roddick's boorish display in losing in this year's US Open. This tennis "sameness" is also evident in the broadcast booth wherein Amerlcan viewers are treated to heavy doses of John McEnroe every year. McEnroe is a good enough announcer, but is so great a commentator that we must hear only from him and Mary Carrillo year after year? It would be interesting to hear match insights from someone else, say Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras? Might they have something to say that's fresh and insightful? I would think so!

Michael said...

I heard several promos on ESPN Radio for the Boise State-Virginia Tech game. Every single one said, "from FedEx Field in Washington, D.C." Does anyone at ESPN realize that FedEx Field is in Maryland? It may be a small issue, but it is sloppy.

Anonymous said...

Just started reading this blog, but I find it sad that you apparently can't tell when to take things serious or not.

And the comment about having someone call in and talk about mid-term elections and Supreme Court cases is beyond idiotic. Its a sports show. To generalize them as idiots from what you've heard them say on a sports talk show is close-minded, short sighted, and stereotypical.

Your hatred of ESPN reeks of jealousy.