America's men's tennis is back

September 15, 1992

Stefan Edberg of Sweden won the U.S. Open tenni tournament Sunday for the second straight year. But the 1990s still look to be a big decade for America's men tennis players. Americans won the other three 1992 Grand Slam events -- the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon. An American might have won the U.S. Open, too -- giving the United States a clean sweep for the first time since 1938 -- had it not been for the wrongheaded scheduling of these Grand Slam events. We'll come back to that.

But first take note that American men's professional tennis, which had been down since the end of the Jimmy Connors-John McEnroe era (mid-1970s to the mid-1980s), now boasts four of the best six players in the world. And all are men born in the 1970s. They should be Grand Slam favorites for the rest of the decade.

The four are Jim Courier, 22, who won the Australian and French opens this year, Andre Agassi, 22, who won Wimbledon, Pete Sampras, 21, who lost to Stefan Edberg in the U.S. Open Sunday, and Michael Chang, 20, who lost to Edberg in the semi-finals on Saturday. They are rated second, sixth, third and fourth in the world, respectively, by the Association of Tennis Professionals' computer. (Ivan Lendl, 32, is seventh. He became an American citizen this year.)

Sunday's men's final was not the best tennis in the world. In order to maximize the audience and thus the pay-off, the U.S. Tennis Association and CBS routinely schedule the men's semi-finals and finals on Saturday and Sunday. As Stefan Edberg said after his match, "Saturday and Sunday semi and final is great for tennis in America. It is bad for only two people, the players that play on Sunday."

We think he's wrong. We think Saturday and Sunday semi and final is bad for the fans. The audience at home and in the stands would have seen much better tennis if the finalists had been given a day off in between.

You cannot play three, four much less five hours of what has become a grueling game physically and psychologically one day, then play your best again the very next day. In Pete Sampras' case, a day off would have allowed him to recover from an ailment -- and might have allowed him to complete the American Grand Slam sweep (which some commentators had predicted he would do before the open began).

Stefan Edberg's championship is not diminished by this, but if these Grand Slam events are to retain the prestige they have earned over the century-plus since they began, some new way of scheduling must be devised that will let champions play and fans enjoy their best tennis.

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