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Tennis

Tennis Channel, anyone?

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published June 17, 2003

Steve Bellamy has two things in his blood: music and tennis.

Both landed him on TV.

A guitarist, Bellamy toured with a rock group throughout the Midwest as a student at Indiana University. While living in California after college, he recorded songs and had a music video played on MTV. To pay for his studio sessions, Bellamy taught tennis.

Today, the 39-year-old Bellamy, whom Tennis Magazine called the "Pied Piper of tennis," is back on the small screen, this time as president and founder of the Tennis Channel.

"I'm the lead singer," Bellamy said.

The network, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., has 60 employees.

Bellamy is its front man.

He makes deals, markets the product and does on-air commentary. His music is used for background.

"I've put a lot of my money into it," Bellamy said. "And I've put a lot of my music into it. It's a very expensive venture. I've had to raise a lot of capital."

The station was launched in April. Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are investors. Celebrities such as Phil McGraw, better known as TV personality Dr. Phil, are among its fans.

"This is the biggest thing in tennis since the oversized racket," Bellamy boldly proclaimed. "It's been an amazing ride. We're the darlings of cable probably right now."

The Tennis Channel features live event coverage, a daily Nick Bollettieri instructional show, interviews, in-depth player features and classic matches. Much of its original programming is produced in Florida.

It can be watched in 3-million homes, up from 1-million when it launched. Orange County, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and San Diego are among its notable markets. The network can't be seen in the Tampa Bay area without a satellite, but Bellamy hopes that will change. The Tennis Channel and Bright House, the area's largest cable TV provider, have discussed adding the station to the lineup and Bellamy is confident a deal can be reached.

"It's one of the best tennis markets in the world," Bellamy said. "You've got the best academies in the world there, you've got a lion's share of the greatest players that train there, you've got the women's tour headquartered there. It's one of our top-priority markets."

To force the issue, Bellamy has started www.tennischannelpetition.com an online form the network will forward to cable providers.

DOWN AND OUT: Anna Kournikova's forgetable year has taken another turn for the worse. The 1997 Wimbledon semifinalist, 1-9 on the WTA Tour in 2003, has withdrawn from Wimbledon because of a bad back. Ranked as high as No. 8 in 2001, the 22-year-old Russian is currently 76th.

No. 4 Carlos Moya and Tommy Haas withdrew with unspecified injuries. Moya lost in the French Open quarterfinals to eventual champion Juan Carlos Ferrero. Haas had surgery on his right shoulder in December. Goran Ivanisevic and Monica Seles are other notable Wimbledon no-shows.

The tournament begins Monday.

ASCENDING: Ashley Harkleroad, an 18-year-old up-and-comer who trains at Saddlebrook, is ranked a career-best 39th based largely on a strong showing at the French Open (she reached the third round). Harkleroad was 115th when the year began. She'll be making her first Wimbledon appearance.

ODDS AND ENDS: Todd Woodbridge moved to third place all-time in doubles titles when he and Jonas Bjorkman won the Gerry Weber Open in Germany last weekend. Woodbridge has 75 career titles, trailing Tom Okker (78) and John McEnroe (77). ... Saddlebrook's Jennifer Capriati, No. 1 last June, has dropped to No. 8. Her last title was at the 2002 Australian Open.

- Information from Times wires was used in the report.

[Last modified June 17, 2003, 01:48:03]


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