U.S. Open goes blue, but tennis needs even larger dose of color

ON MEDIA

August 26, 2005|By RAY FRAGER

THE U.S. OPEN begins its two-week run in New York and on USA Network and CBS on Monday, so the question is: What is the No. 1 story of the tournament?

How about: Does Rafael Nadal have clam-diggers to match the new blue court?

You want a better story? Let's go with analyst Patrick McEnroe, then:

"Can anyone stop [Roger] Federer?"

The No. 1 men's player in the world has treated fans to stylish, dominant tennis and comes into the Open as the overwhelming favorite. The other half of the McEnroe Brothers Tennis Analysis firm, John, said Federer is approaching historic status.

"He makes it look so easy," John McEnroe said in a conference call yesterday. "... He seems so comfortable being No. 1. If he keeps it up for ... four years, he's going to be the greatest player who ever lived."

On the women's side, Tracy Austin said, the first week should be anything but routine.

"There are more questions in the first week than we've seen in a women's major in a long time," Austin said, citing the issues of Serena Williams' fitness and the match readiness of Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova.

The question that nearly always dogs tennis, though, is how to increase its popularity.

"We should be trying anything and everything," John McEnroe said, mentioning how the NFL -- despite its undisputed position as the country's No. 1 sport -- "is always trying things."

"It's amazing how little has changed in tennis. This big innovation is having a blue court. That is a major change in our sport? ... Players need to make themselves more accessible, we need better marketing, different camera angles."

Austin had an intriguing suggestion: use electronic line calling and give players a couple of call challenges per set.

John McEnroe said the Open would benefit from moving the men's and women's finals to prime time on Sunday and Monday nights. For one thing, as Open viewers well know, some of the best tennis comes in the night sessions.

"There's an energy there. ... Players have more time to get themselves psyched up," he said.

USA Network will carry 107 1/2 hours of the Open, beginning Monday at 11 a.m. USA's weekday coverage during the first week runs 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. CBS' live coverage kicks in next weekend.

This year marks the last go-round for ESPN's NFL Prime Time, which began in 1986. The definitive highlights show each Sunday has been one of ESPN's biggest successes, but as part of the NFL's new television deal that gives NBC the Sunday night package, the highlights program moves to NBC, as well.

Chris Berman has been Prime Time's host from the beginning.

"Maybe a generation and a half of NFL fans got their highlights from Prime Time. ... We're going to go out with a bang," Berman said in a conference call this week.

During the same call, the subject of fantasy football came up -- ESPN senior coordinating producer Bob Rauscher said the network wants a slice of the country's 12 million fantasy league players -- and analyst Tom Jackson used the Ravens as an example of how tricky it is to pick your team. Jackson cited Todd Heap, Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason as potentially productive receiving options. But, he noted, their value could be lower because their numbers are tied to inconsistent quarterback Kyle Boller.

Starting with the late SportsCenter on Sunday night, ESPN presents a three-part series on the increasing size of football players. ...

Maybe Baltimore didn't receive its invitation to the NEC Invitational. The final round of the golf tournament, featuring a win by that Woods guy, drew a 5.2 overnight rating, which measures the percentage of viewers in the country's 55 biggest markets. Here, Sunday's CBS coverage on Channel 13 got only a 2.4. ...

Alumni report: Former Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal has joined Fox. He will appear on Fox Sports' TV and radio programming and write for its Web site.

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