Tennis' tough schedule faulted


August 25, 2006|By Ray Frager

The U.S. Open begins Monday, with the usual extensive coverage on USA Network and CBS, and as enjoyable as the telecasts are for tennis fans, each year's edition seems to bring with it the same question.

Can tennis be fixed?

Earlier this week, while appearing on WJFK (1300 AM), prolific sports author John Feinstein - whose books include one on pro tennis - said: "Tennis is dead."

During a conference call Wednesday, USA and CBS commentators Tracy Austin, Mary Carillo and John McEnroe spent a chunk of their time going over the well-worn topics of how the sport's structure undermines its well-being.

"A blue court is not going to save the sport," McEnroe said, referring to the color change instituted last year.

One of the major problems sounds simple enough - getting the players to play. But the jam-packed schedule, with little time off during the successive clay-court, grass-court and hard-court seasons, strains the pros, the analysts said. The result? Frequent injuries and tournament pull-outs by the big names.

Or even worse, tanking of matches. Carillo said that's just what happened last week, when No. 1-ranked Roger Federer lost to Andy Murray in the second round of a tournament in Mason, Ohio.

"[Federer] went there because he had to," Carillo said, "and he played like he went there because had to."

So are things likely to change?

"Our sport is famous for its turf wars," Carillo said.

One of tennis' innovations, the replay system for challenging line calls, got two thumbs-up and one thumbs-down from the experts. Yea from McEnroe and Austin, nay from Carillo.

"The umpires have become impotent in some ways," Carillo said, citing how replays can negate their power to overrule calls from the chair. Plus, the fact that a player can run out of challenges means the system won't necessarily prevent a bad call from determining a match.

She's not a big fan of supposed technological innovations on the telecasts, anyway. Carillo said she likes her sports presented much more simply.

"I think a lot of the stuff that's going on now," she said, "is chazzerai, as we say in Queens."

(Discerning readers will note that makes two weeks in a row with a Yiddish word in this column. In this context, chazzerai means "junk." Coming next week, I figure out a way to fit kvetch into the column. Ah, who am I kidding? There's usually plenty of kvetching here.)

Condensed football

The Bryant Gumbel brouhaha points to a disadvantage of having the league own the NFL Network. But here's an advantage: For the first time, games will be re-aired during the week.

Each Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. during the regular season, the NFL Network will carry NFL Replay, which condenses four important games from each week into 90-minute packages.

The program will use the original network telecasts, including the call from the Fox, CBS, NBC or ESPN announcers. The NFL Network will edit the footage, cutting out plays or entire series that didn't directly affect the outcome.

In addition - and potentially this may be the best part of the show - NFL Replay will mix post-game comments from players and coaches related to what has just happened on the field. For example, you might see the Ravens' Steve McNair toss a touchdown pass to Derrick Mason, then hear McNair talk about how Mason had told him in the huddle he felt a certain pattern would work against the defense.

Stirring memories

Did you happen to catch Vince Bagli on the radio this week? Tom Davis, hosting Mark Viviano's show on WJFK, brought the venerable sportscaster back onto the air. Just hearing his voice made me smile.

I didn't grow up in Baltimore, but I've been here long enough to have fond memories of Bagli's down-home, listen-to-Uncle Vince nightly sportscasts on WBAL/Channel 11. Some of the callers to the show - those with deeper roots and longer memories - seemed just as tickled to hear Bagli, who used to call Colts games on radio. In fact, at least one fellow sounded nearly overwhelmed with emotion.

It's no knock against any of the current voices on the air in town - probably more just a matter of how broadcasters don't hold on to jobs as long - but I wonder if anyone is going to tear up 30 years from now while recalling listening to them.

Read Ray Frager's sports media blog at

Weekend highlights

Football -- That's high school football. Should such games even be televised nationally? Watch Belle Glades Central of Florida vs. Byrnes of South Carolina tomorrow at noon on ESPN and decide.

Golf -- Can't get enough of that Tiger stuff? The talented Mr. Woods competes in the Bridgestone Invitational tomorrow (2 p.m.) and Sunday (2:30 p.m.) on CBS. (WJZ/Channel 13 on Sunday only, after the Orioles, and WUSA/Channel 9 both days).

Swimming -- Check out how local aquapeople Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff did last weekend in the Pan Pacific meet tomorrow (2 p.m.) and Sunday (noon) on NBC (WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4). Hey, if you've forgotten, it's news to you.

[ Ray Frager]

Top-Rated Sports

Highest-rated sports programming for Baltimore for Aug. 16-22 (ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program):

Program Date Ch. Rtg.

Ravens-Eagles 8/17 45 12.9

Seahawks-Colts 8/20 11 5.5

PGA 8/20 13 4.8

Cowboys-Saints 8/21 ESPN 4.2

WWE Raw-a 8/21 USA 3.7

Orioles-Blue Jays 8/19 54 3.7

Orioles-Yankees 8/16 CSN 3.7

Orioles-Twins 8/22 CSN 3.6

PGA 8/19 13 3.4

Orioles-Blue Jays 8/20 54 3.3

a-10 to 11 p.m.

[ Nielsen ratings courtesy of WBAL-TV]

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