Sampras, Agassi volley for tennis

ON THE AIR

June 27, 1995|By MILTON KENT

Less than a year after Sports Illustrated asked if tennis were dead, the sport has come off the respirator, thanks to the budding rivalry of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.

Agassi and Sampras, the two top male seeds at Wimbledon, have emerged as the dominant figures in tennis, both on the court and off and if they make it through to the final -- the first time they would meet in a Grand Slam championship -- the sport could receive a tremendous bonus.

"The more often they meet, the better it is for tennis," said HBO's Billie Jean King.

Sampras, the defending two-time Wimbledon champion, and Agassi, the 1992 winner, appear to be willing to help sell the sport to the public.

Recently, the two men shot a series of 10 promos that will air on NBC during the tournament, a sign that they understand their abilities to serve as drawing cards.

"It's a very positive sign to see Sampras and Agassi cooperating and understanding that at the top of the game, they have a role to play in the game's future. I applaud that tremendously," said NBC's Dick Enberg.

The only thing that appears to be missing from their rivalry is an intense dislike of each other, a la Jimmy Connors-John McEnroe or Bjorn Borg-McEnroe, or anybody-McEnroe, for that matter.

"This 'good buddy' stuff is not good for rivalries, or at least not in my opinion. They don't have to hate each other, but there should be some dislike, at least on the court," said McEnroe.

The life of Riley

Somewhere, on some Greek isle, former New York Knicks coach Pat Riley is vacationing, with a glass of Ouzo or two, no doubt, but when he returns, Riley will have to ponder his future employment opportunities, both in and out of the NBA.

One of those chances will not be with NBC, the network for which he served as a studio analyst for a year after he left the Los Angeles Lakers. A network spokesman said yesterday that NBC will retain all its announcers for next season and has no interest in Riley.

However, Greg Hughes, a TNT spokesman, said, "We've made it known that we have an interest in talking with him." However, no talks have taken place.

Orioles on-line

Home Team Sports' much ballyhooed on-line chat during Saturday night's Orioles-Boston game was frankly, a mixed bag, as the inherent flaws of cyberspace chat rooms -- too many people, too few interesting questions -- took some of the fun out of an interesting experiment.

The concept of having America Online subscribers talk with game announcers Mel Proctor and Jim Palmer was a novel one. Proctor and Palmer seemed to have fun with it, and there was some interesting byplay from time to time.

But there were complaints from subscribers that their questions weren't getting through, and those that did make it to the announcers, with few exceptions, were of the softball variety. With a little fine tuning, however, another HTS foray into cyberspace could be worthwhile.

A tough sales approach

It appears that subtlety will not be part of the vocabulary of either the Canadian Football League or its Baltimore affiliate, if Saturday night's telecast from Miami is any judge.

It wasn't enough that both the overexposed Jim Speros, the Baltimore owner, and his Birmingham counterpart, Art Williams, turned up in the booth to hawk their teams to the local populace, but Channel 54 ran a constant crawl across the bottom of the screen to tell us that season seats and game tickets were available.

Worse yet, the Sunshine Network, the originating telecaster whose signal was carried nationally by Prime, actually ran the teams' immediate home schedules, as well as contact phone numbers for tickets -- something that hardly any national carrier would do.

Lighten up, fellows. A worthy product sells itself.

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