Thursday, August 23, 2012
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE U S OPEN (Tennis---not Golf)
When you turn on the news you always get the baseball, football, and basketball results along with a lot more of all the unwanted minutiae. Tennis at, say, the U S Open until recently was an afterthought and still it has turned into the over-priced and totally different thing that it, and the other sports, were years back. Years back---when one sat in the bleachers for a few dollars (snuck a look at the Yankees from an elevated Subway station for free) or when Tennis was on WNET in NY with Bud Palmer promoting it and the prize money was truly an awesome few thousand dollars. Palmer and Tennis, along with the other sports have succeeded beyond their, I suppose, wildest dreams. Of course you can forget about the U S Open on WNET now and you can also forget about seeing it for an affordable price. But, there are moments and times when the U S Open is Open---to an admiring public. Just before the actual games start and the qualifying matches on side courts are open to all. They can be as good as anything on the main arenas that come later.
On the bright side it has to be said that given all our new technologies there are so many ways of viewing this event that it truly is open to all. At least electronically. You are in need of great patience to sit through interminable commercials or interminable blabber from the very well paid commentators (the McEnroe brothers among others—well, John anyway). On a positive note there is always the feed from the U S Open’s website which does require a fairly fast computer---but you do gain bliss from blather.
That would be the thing. Think about a few things though. You can buy all kinds of tickets and none are inexpensive. It is a simple matter of physics that the further you are away from an object in motion the slower it seems to move------most rationally priced seats are in that location. To see the match properly you need a mortgage on your home. OK stick to TV. Or you can buy a ground pass ( if that is the term) and actually have a better view on the huge monitor of Ashe Stadium than the people in the overpriced stratospheric seats.
You hear a lot about the stars and they surely have worked their athletic asses off to get where they are and are deservedly featured and well rewarded. They also have great expenses in being there---trainers, coaches, medics (I suppose), family, entourage, and more. We are speaking of hundreds of thousands of dollars not even including that same amount to achieve this place---and the work.
There are also the newcomers. The unseeded players. They pay for their living arrangements, travel, their court time, their entrance fees, and ever so much more. You would also enjoy watching them in the qualifying rounds---for FREE. I recall some years back seeing Monfils that way. They have big investments in their futures. You may well pay for court time when you play somewhere but who would have thought that they would have to pay as well---in addition to entrance fees and, if they have no friends or family in the area, lodging.
Should they rise to a star level they will, as Gilbert and Sullivan so aptly wrote in Trial By Jury---“...receive the rewards of their pluck....”. Should they not—well, they played what they loved and, perhaps, will go on to being coaches and trainers at various clubs.
That would include people like Linesmen, Judges, Chair Umpires, etc; all of who get paid a stipend. They love the game and come from professions that affords them the opportunity to take on these tasks for the joy of doing it and not being paid even enough to cover their expenses(as a rule). You do need some examples---check an article in the NY Times for that while you think of $150 stipends for persons who have flown in from California (bad example this year given that brouhaha) for the event. Just an example. Then think of The McEnroe Brothers and others and their “stipends”. Like many an organization there are those who sacrifice because they love the “cause” and those who love it and are more than happy to make a handsome profit from it. It goes on in many areas---some which I am personally acquainted with.
Not much time or “ink”(which is not really used now) will be wasted here---food, clothing, auto promotions, and all such things need no comments about their pricing here. I never did see a T Shirt worth $70. We will forget the cost of Hamburgers for the time being—I can only hope it was a Sacred Cow since that might be worth the price. Honestly---they are there for only one thing. Nuff said. I wonder if food and drink prices are equivalent in Baseball Parks or Football Stadiums---perhaps someone might comment on that.
The further back you sit, it seems, the less you are a real tennis fan but a person who wants to feel like he/she is in on some sort of action or event and pay handsomely for it. Refer back to the comment about physics and distance (and later of monitor viewing on the site’s own big screen). The people who really see the match are the box holders and you might want to check your stock holdings to see if your company has some. Ask them for a seat. If it is a corporation tell them you do own shares. Breath holding is a no-no---a dangerous one.
The U S Open prides itself on the amount of celebrities that attend. Why not? Some are Athletes, Performers, and others who can well afford the price of front row seats (or are comped)that will appear on TV. You also have to ask how many are invited by the Open to fill that important celebrity void. I guess WFDU has not yet risen to that level so I cannot be accused of hypocrisy yet. But---give me chance to practice hypocrisy.
The Bottom Line:
It is a great event that has grown from humble beginnings and morphed into a Super Spectacular as so many other sports have. That has to leave us wondering what happened to the sports and “team spirit” as differentiated from corporate greed. Wimbledon does try to retain its traditions but that can only last so long---perhaps. While I am not privy to their inner workings I am certain it is not far removed from the U S Open save for the “tradition” aspects.
As to the U S Open. I keep hearing about the wonders of The Williams Sisters . Seems that the stadium is named after Arthur Ashe (deservedly) and what about Althea Gibson. Her name does not seem prominently mentioned---though she is—finally---on that wall at the site.
The Real Bottom Line:
It probably is not possible to go back to that simpler time of pure competition for the joy of the game. Like so many other things it seems to have turned into a “nationalistic” event since the nationalities of the participants is always prominently displayed. Patrick McEnroe, to his credit, if he is serious about this, is intent on promulgating and encouraging more U.S. players.
If, on the other hand, Tennis were to not try to keep its elitism it would have the popularity and interest of Baseball, Football, and all those other sports (it already charges their admission prices—and more). Though, arguably, that is what sets it apart from those other sports. It, other than Golf, is the only non-team sport (I know the bowlers will object---and also the boxers and over acting wrestlers(?) that attracts interest and serious participants.
The real bottom line is that you cannot beat the U S Open for great promotion, keeping it Elite, and promoting a great show---and that is what it is a “show”. That includes the mandatory ball autographing for the crowd, the acting like early gladiators in Roman arenas, and the overblown commentaries for every breath a player takes.
Would that they would go back to a more modest and low key form. Letting the players come on the court, play the game and spend time with the media focusing on the winners of the finals. It is, I agree, problematical that once you create the monster you can’t stop it. Before the huge stadiums and rowdy crowds in high seats (who really cannot see the intensity---see above) there were smaller venues and a much appreciated game. That includes a less watched Television channel. We cannot go that far back but, certainly, we can offer a bit more restraint in the promotion, the commentary, and, above all, fair pricing and pay for the non-competing participants in the event.
Wooden Racquets, long white trousers, grass courts, clay courts, hard courts, metal racquets, space age material racquets. short skirts, short pants, colorful clothing (which has a purpose in the TV age)), Hype----there is a brief evolution of the game in the 20th and 21st Century. Still ==you have to love it and, hopefully, people will play it and enjoy the thrill of the game and its individuality as opposed to team sports which are also very beneficial and instill a different spirit in a person. I will now not do a riff on some comedic characters and people involved in team sports---it all has its place.