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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Producers at NBC are in a funk at the moment. The French Open Tennis Championships went into the singles semi-finals without a American name left in the draw, on either the men's or the women's side. What was the NBC public relations team supposed to do? Pump up the charisma of Elena Likhovtseva? Run biography blurbs on Nadia Petrova... or Nikolay Davydenko?
It's too late. The American audience basically tuned out day ago. The seemingly ageless Andre Agassi seemingly aged last week. When Andre lost, I'm estimating 65% of American viewers bowed out. Springy Andy Roddick didn't last much longer than Andre. With his departure, another 10% of Americans lost interest. Serena Williams was injured and didn't enter the French. Sister Venus lost early, the resurgence of spirit she exhibited at the Australian Open a few months ago suddenly eluding her. The only American player to make it into the quarterfinals was Lindsay Davenport. Lindsay's been a respected player at the top echelon for so long now and she came into the French seeded number one, hoping for perhaps one more Major Moment -- and one French Open title on her resume -- before retiring to the family life she's been aspiring to as of late. The older athletes say that you can be mentally prepared to execute brilliantly but you really don't know what kind of day your body's going to have. Andre Agassi has come to be all too familiar with such unpredictability over the last year. Well, in the quarters, Lindsay Davenport faced an opponent who's been on the pro circuit just about as long as she has. And, this time, it was Mary Pierce who wasn't expecting the day her body gave her. Pierce, a French citizen, felt that extra emotional boost from the French crowd as well. The point is that when the last American, Lindsay Davenport, bowed out and foreigners all headed toward the semi-finals, The French Open became a tournament largely irrelevant to the American sports fan.
The few of us left not only don't care that the Americans are out. We revel in the international pockets of talent that cycle through the game of tennis. The French Open may well be won by a Swiss man and a Belgian woman and the exciting sociological viewpoint of the tournament is that it has been dripping with Spaniards and Russians and Argentines. Last year the lanky, brunette Russian Anastasia Myskina won the French and the lanky, blonde Russian Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon just about a month later. Take a look at the names making it past the first three rounds of the French this year. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova, Elena Likhovtseva, Nikoly Davydenko, Marat Safin. Training centers in Russia are booming at the moment and the disciplined, hungry Russian players sweeping world-class tennis are impressive.
In the front row at the French we've seen a former Argentine champion, Guillermo Villas, cheering on the many Argentine players working their way through the draw. Guillermo Canas, Mariano Puerta, Jos- Acasuso, Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio. As in Moscow, Buenos Aires currently breeds a hotbed of tennis talent and these young Argentines are flashy and exciting to watch.
And in Spain, Barcelona has diminished the teenage training camp craze in Florida as the current crop of stellar Spanish players inspire kids from all over the world to come hone their skills on the Spanish red clay.
Rafael Nadal, or Rafa, from Mallorca, will play his semi-final match against current #1 Swiss sensation Roger Federer tomorrow, on Rafa's 19th birthday. NBC might not be able to lasso big numbers of American viewers to this Swiss/Argentine match but for the purist, it promises to be a thriller of finesse and heart.
Of course it would be wonderful to see Agassi back at the top. Or to see Serena and Venus rise again to their potential. But the broad international variety of world-class tennis is part of the sport's sex appeal and I, for one, find this week's French Open tres sexy.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
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