This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
I never thought I'd say this but there is just too much tennis to sustain even an ardent fan's interest these days. This week the top-eight ranked women in the world are playing their year-end tournament in Madrid. For the first time, this last event will determine who is Number One in the world. That's how close Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and Amelie Mauresmo are ranked at this point. By the way, after defending the native, correct pronunciation of Sharapova's name ever since the Siberian sensation broke out on the tour, calling her "Sha-RAH-po-va," while most other American journalists have persisted in calling her, incorrectly, "Shara-PO-va," I had a one-on-one chat with Maria last spring and she told me that indeed "Sha-RAH-po-va" was right but that she was marketing herself in the United States as "Shara-PO-va". It's arresting to hear a teenager tell you how she calculatedly markets herself distinctly in different quarters of the world.
So, Sharapova is on fire in Madrid. She's no longer gawky in her 6'2" frame, she's put some muscle on that build, and hence more power in her game, and tennis marketers would be thrilled to have the modelesque Maria, now more Floridian than Siberian, parade as champion this Sunday.
That same day, the men's year-end event kicks off in Shanghai. No doubt the spectators in the design extraordinaire Qi Zhong Stadium will be thrilled to watch the week-long matches among the best eight men in the world. 2006 unveiled an exciting rivalry between the Swiss artist many are calling the best who's ever held a racquet, Roger Federer, and his young, fiery nemesis, Spaniard Rafael Nadal. Federer and Nadal are seeded one and two in Shanghai and that final would be "money," so to speak.
Both the men's a women's events have all the makings of stellar tournaments. The trouble is, unless you're one of the lucky fans actually attending the matches in Madrid or Shanghai, you probably have zero curiosity about these year-end championships.
The television ratings will be virtually non-measurable. When the women's Tour Championships were held in Los Angeles over the last four years, the thin crowd was absolutely embarrassing. You could walk up to the box office one minute before a match between the two top players in the world and get any courstside seat you asked for. Compare that scenario to the US Open which is called the toughest ticket in sports. At the Open, we're jazzed. We'll pay multiple times ticket face value to soak up the atmosphere at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. This time of year, it's the same players, wielding the same racquets, and we evidently could care less.
The top players say they live for the Grand Slams. When the US Open is over, their season is over, and that's just how we fans feel. But here it is November and the players are trying to muster their eleventh straight month of fitness, strength, shot making, and focus. Not only are professional tennis players of this year-round era constantly injured, but they have been forced into dropping out of tournaments at the last minute, sometimes feigning injury to avoid contract terms, because they simply can't keep up body and heart on such a demanding continuum.
I've been griping for a long time about the extended seasons for almost all sports. Hockey started before the World Series played out. That's just wrong. Basketball, traditionally a winter sport, now ends after Memorial Day. NASCAR seems interminably, forever, in action. But no sport outstays its calendar-welcome as does tennis.
The respective winners in Madrid and Shanghai will take home more than a million each. Both the women's and men's tours will profit. But isn't there enough dough flowing in tennis that we could forego these tenth and eleventh months of uninspiring tournaments? Let's leave the sport at the US Open and pick it up again with the Australian in January. Give the players a chance for longevity. Give us a break, too.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.