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USTA pulling out stops to plug 'reality' series
By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published July 19, 2005
As compelling as they are on their own, would the Super Bowl, World Series or Stanley Cup final be the same without the playoffs and key regular-season showdowns that precede them?
With that in mind, the world of tennis, and particularly the U.S. Tennis Association, is going to great lengths to promote the U.S. Open series, a six-week summer season of ATP Tour and WTA Tour North American tournaments linked to the U.S. Open, the year's final major.
"What this does, really, is put tennis on the same platform as the other major sports, where the regular seasons culminate with major championships," said Arlen Kantarian , USTA chief executive for professional tennis. "It's something a lot of U.S. fans are used to and now we're delivering it to them for the first time. It's nothing different from what baseball, football and the other big sports have done."
The series, which starts year No. 2 this week with the men in Indianapolis (the women begin next week), is a points system that rewards the top performers with bonus prize money payouts at the U.S. Open. The series' overall winners will play for double prize money at the Open, a potential $2.2-million payday.
The 2004 series was an immediate success and resulted in record attendance and TV viewership, the latter of which jumped more than 50 percent. Tennis' leadership, taking nothing for granted, has launched an aggressive ad campaign (it's being called "Summer's Hottest Reality Series") and a new Web site, usopenseries.com, that has integrated flash video and will present the latest news, standings and highlights.
More than 115 hours of live TV coverage is planned. And the courts at U.S. Open Series events will use a distinct color scheme, a blue inner court surrounded by a green outer court, which organizers hope provides a signature look and identifiable link between the series and the Open.
"We're pleased with where we're at," Kantarian said. "That having been said, I've always felt a new concept like this in any sport takes a good three years to really gain traction throughout the country. We're putting a lot behind it this year. The second year is always the most important year."
The idea for this type of series isn't new. Legendary player Jack Kramer proposed a similar plan 25 to 30 years ago. The U.S. Open Series is a "2000 version" of Kramer's vision, Kantarian said.
"What's working for us is that the three governing bodies, four networks, 10 tournament owners and a number of players are behind this thing," he added.
LOB SHOTS: Steffi Graf , retired since 1999, can still pack them in. At a World TeamTennis match last week in Houston, more than 4,800 showed up to watch her play singles, doubles and mixed doubles. ... Tampa's Mardy Fish , last year's Olympic silver medalist, makes his ATP return this week in Indianapolis after missing several events following surgery on his left wrist. ... Australian Open champ Marat Safin began treatment on his sore left knee last week and hopes to avoid surgery.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Rafael Nadal takes a 29-match clay-court winning streak into this week's Mercedes Cup in Germany, the ninth-longest stretch in the Open era. He trails Guillermo Vilas (53), Bjorn Borg (46), Thomas Muster (40), Muster (38), Ilie Nastase (36), Borg, Guillermo Coria and Mats Wilander (31 each).
LAST WORD: " " Lleyton ( Hewitt ) cheers for other people's mistakes and is very aggressive. It is very difficult not to feel provoked. ... As a person, I would rather not win a single tournament than be like Lleyton."