© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
For all the talk about tennis lacking the colorful characters it had 20 years ago in the heyday of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, few sports can match tennis for its variety of official player sites.
Interest has peaked online during the U.S. Open, with searches for the Open topping those for the NFL at Yahoo.com, even as football season opens this week. Much of that traffic is headed toward usopen.org, the tournament's official site, which has live scoring, pictures, stories and all the usual big-event bells and whistles.
Official USTA auctions at eBay.com include two of the four courtside chairs used during the women's singles final (sold for $2,575 Thursday) and three match-used balls from the men's singles final (sold for $636). And for a sport with a bad history involving obsessed fans, it's awkward to see the USTA auctioning off a one-day media pass to cover a session of next year's Open for the official site. The listing touts a "once-in-a-lifetime chance to get inside the lines" and "get the inside scoop in postmatch interviews."
For fans who can't afford to buy their way into news conferences, player sites offer ample information about the sport's top personalities, on and off the court. A few worth visiting: andyroddick.com: This site stepped up its coverage for Thursday night's showdown with Pete Sampras. A page of video clips includes Open highlights, footage from talk-show stops with Craig Kilborn and Regis Philbin and a behind-the-scenes look at Roddick's amusing American Express commercial. A Roddick bobblehead, complete with backward hat, is available in the "Pro Shop" for $17.99. For a higher level of adoration, visit roddickrocks.com.
petesampras.com: Sharp graphics, with enough Web sense to know to have cool music ... and an easy-to-find music-off button. The "Sampras Slam" page details each of his 13 Grand Slam victories and breaks down his dominance at each venue. Lots of details, many fresh this week: his favorite New York restaurant is Trattoria del Arte, while his favorite New York City show is Late Show with David Letterman.
The site is produced by uncommonthinking.com, which has similarly impressive tennis sites at danielahantuchova.com and agassiopen.com.
marcelorios.cl: The global nature of the sport has many official sites written in other languages and only partially available in English. Rios' is based in Spanish, while amelie-mauresmo.com, for instance, is mostly in French. You can use a site such as altavista.com to cut-and-paste a block of text for a quick translation.
jelena-online.com: Jelena Dokic gets political on her official site, voicing support for ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj, a candidate for the Serbian presidency. There's a link to a letter of support (with a translation) and surprisingly little tennis on the main page. If you search, you can find archived interviews, photo galleries and year-by-year results.
venusserenafans.com: Since williamssisters.com is gone, the sport's dominant two players are without an official site. This fan site will do, though a slew of pop-up ads and dead links bog things down. A poll asks who will win the Open women's singles title, and predictably, Serena (56 percent) and Venus (37 percent) have all but 7 percent of the balloting.
TID-BYTES: How real is the "NFL Fever 2003" video game? Xbox.com played simulations of Monday Night Football games before they were played last year, getting the winner correct 68 percent of the time and nailing the score of Super Bowl XXXVI perfectly. Look for highlight reels and game summaries each Friday -- this week's prediction has the Patriots rallying to beat the Steelers 28-21. ... Rays prospect Rocco Baldelli finished the season atop the Hot Prospects list at baseballamerica.com. ... One surefire way to tell the Florida-Miami rivalry's been rekindled: Message boards at gatorcountry.com exceeded their maximum capacity -- about 275 to 300 people at once -- Thursday as fans discussed Saturday's showdown in Gainesville. Webmasters at canestime.com went so far as to set ground rules for posts this week. You know they're keeping it clean when referencing Miami as "scUM' is off limits.
-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org.