While doing work today, I ran across this column by Bruce Jenkins in today's San Francisco Chronicle
. He also thinks that there needs to be more international coverage. If you enjoy the column, I encourage you to email him and tell him so.
The San Francisco Chronicle
JUNE 28, 2004, MONDAY, FINAL EDITION
SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. F1; BRUCE JENKINS
LENGTH: 925 words
HEADLINE: American focus is plain ugly
BYLINE: Bruce Jenkins
DATELINE: Wimbledon, England
You're an American tennis fan, and the American tennis networks know you well. You're a hopeless patriot with no imagination. You hear no applause if it doesn't concern you. Foreign players can't be interesting because, you know, they're not like us. You'll be force-fed U.S. players onto your TV screen, even if it's the worst match you've seen in 50 years.
Or did you break from that mold during the French Open and belittle the dolts at ESPN?
There's no getting through to these people. They'll never get it. The French Open was only the latest example of blind network loyalty to American players, drama and intrigue be damned. It was endless looks at Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati and other Americans in lifeless matches, even if others more thoroughly captured the essence of confrontation.
Word has it the ESPN people received a ton of angry e-mails, but that won't change anything. Just as they clutter up baseball highlights with fourth-rate music and allow complete twits to perform comedy routines as "SportsCenter" anchors, they'll cling to their pie charts, marketing ploys and demographics and claim they know how the business works. Sort of like every network that ignores compelling human-interest stories from other countries during the Olympic Games, focusing only on our own.
In the Wimbledon headquarters of NBC on Sunday, there was a heavy bias toward the Andy Roddick-Taylor Dent match, strictly because they're both American. It was a straight-set rout for Roddick, nothing close to the electricity of Tim Henman-Hicham Arazi on Centre Court, but we were told that only a slice of the Henman match was shown.
This wasn't the craziest "people's day" they've had at Wimbledon (because of two first-week rainouts, the customary Sunday off-day was opened to the general public), but it was a boisterous, bawdy, flag-waving crowd in Henman's corner.
Arazi is a true magician, a little lefty with sleight-of-hand artistry in his soul, and the contrast was magnificent. With his annoyingly unorthodox tactics -- like rushing the net with racket aloft as Henman prepared a "sitter" volley at point-blank range -- Arazi recalled the high school wise guy trying to rattle a straitlaced do-gooder. Steeling himself, saluting the flag while arriving in class five minutes early, Henman admirably crafted a substance-over-style conquest.
I'll never forget the American woman I noticed watching Younes El Aynaoui, the elegant Moroccan player, on Centre Court two years ago. A practitioner of theater, from his distinct showmanship to his graceful acknowledgement of an opponent's best moments, El Aynaoui made a large impression. At one point I heard the woman tell a friend, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "I don't know if I can live with myself unless I at least ask if he's got dinner plans."
If I were to tell my own story about tennis favorites, I suspect it would be a lot like yours -- going farther back in time, most likely, but essentially similar. They are stories the networks would rather not hear.
The hook was Pancho Gonzalez, an American, in the late 1950s. Gonzalez cast such a spell on his audience, he might as well have been Anthony Quinn in "La Strada." Before long, though, it was the Australians: Laver, Hoad, Rosewall, Emerson, and later Newcombe and Roche. They all seemed to enjoy each other's company, partying wildly together into the night, and they flew around the court like magicians. For years, I wasn't that thrilled with any major tournament if an Aussie didn't win.
Coming from the Southern California area, I deeply respected the likes of Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe, who upheld the game's spirit of dignity. Everything changed when Jimmy Connors, after just one year at UCLA, turned pro in 1972. Here was a rogue, a carnival act, an obscenity in sneakers. I wasn't ready for that, and he looked like a ninny with his two-handed backhand and all-baseline attack. "Hey, Jimmy!" my friends and I yelled. "Awful!"
It wasn't long, though, before stormy behavior became almost a prerequisite for tennis theater. I greatly preferred Ilie Nastase, of Romania, because he was a creative genius to Connors' monotone. And I couldn't help but admire John McEnroe because he had the best pure touch around the net I'd ever seen. It was best to have a maniac against a stoic, like Bjorn Borg; then the contrast was vivid.
Americans? Romanians? Australians? Who the hell cared? What did that have to do with anything? I pulled desperately for Evonne Goolagong against America's darling, Chrissie Evert, because her game was so much more inspired. I followed Virginia Wade's every move, hoping she'd knock off Billie Jean King. Monica Seles became a favorite because she was so remarkably down-to-earth, and the Czech-born Martina Navratilova brought more humor to a conversation than any six American players put together.
Devote blind loyalty to Americans? Nothing could be more tedious. Why show Roscoe Tanner, Harold Solomon, Jimmy Arias or David Wheaton when you can get a look at Henri Leconte, Yannick Noah, Adriano Panatta or Boris Becker?
Just now at Wimbledon, there is justification for a partially pro-American stance. The consensus ideal would have Andy Roddick playing Roger Federer in the men's final, with Serena Williams going against one of the youthful Europeans on the women's side. But please, spare us Roddick-Robby Ginepri or Serena-Lindsay Davenport. Judge by what you see, not by how you're supposed to feel.E-mail Bruce Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org