Posted 5/18/2005 11:57 PM
Tennis shows its true colors with court overhaul
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the overriding color of sports. Green doesn't just dominate the sports landscape; it is the sports landscape. All those fields of green: baseball, football, soccer. Everywhere you look, there are athletes outlined against an emerald green field.
But it's not only the grass underfoot; it's the dough in hand. That's the green that really dominates sports.
Tennis — lawn tennis, you know — has been green for a long time, too. Except for the red clay of Roland Garros, the traditional colors of tennis for decades have been green and white. Green grass, green clay, green hard court; white clothes, white tennis balls and, for all those generations, white people.
But the other day, the U.S. Tennis Association announced that this summer, the U.S. Open and the 10 other North American hard-court tournaments that make up the US Open Series are turning blue. The courts at the U.S. Open and the other series events will no longer be green, but royal blue, with the same white lines as always. The out-of-bounds areas will be bright green.
Across the color spectrum of the all-time visual changes in our culture, tennis' decision to go Boise State on us ranks as more important than hockey's short-lived attempt to highlight the puck in blue — you remember hockey? — but still pales in comparison to The Wizard of Oz going from black and white to color.
Why tennis, why now? Trying to bolster interest (read: TV ratings) while realizing it's easier to paint a court than give personality transplants to some of today's superstars, tennis is going blue to make it easier for all of us — players, chair umpires, lines people, reporters, spectators and TV viewers — to see the ball better.
"I've called matches played on blue courts, and I agree that they're more telegenic," Mary Carillo, the noted network television commentator, said Wednesday in an e-mail exchange. "My aging eyes seem to find the ball better, at least."
"The use of color on courts is really nothing new," e-mailed the legendary Billie Jean King, co-founder of World TeamTennis. "(WTT) used multicolored courts in our very first season in 1974. We knew then that you could see the ball better than on a traditional court. ... The use of colors on the courts created a seamless visual and made it easier to see the ball for the players and the umpires."
When you can see the yellow ball better, you can attract more viewers, achieve higher ratings and make more of that green stuff.
Pam Shriver, the former U.S. star turned television analyst, e-mailed that she's all for the color choice.
"Blue would have matched my mood on the court a lot," she said.
Once it's determined that this particular shade of blue coordinates with the wardrobes of Serena and Venus Williams, it'll be unanimous. Veteran clotheshorses and budding designers that those two are, it's believed they'll quickly find that it's easier to match outfits with a court that's blue rather than, say, clay.
Most tennis purists aren't up in arms about the news simply because this change is all about style, not substance.
"It really seems to be a minor cosmetic change to me, this blue-branding, but the hope is that it'll give the US Open Series a distinctive look," Carillo said. "When the U.S. Open went from green grass courts to green clay courts to green hard courts, those were important changes. This is giving the same surface a little old lady rinse — it'll still play the same, which is the only thing that really matters."
It's important to notice what the USTA did not say when it made its announcement the other day. In this era of selling every inch of available sports space, of putting a sponsor's name on everything from network sports halftime shows to the wall behind home plate to the pants of a jockey, the USTA admirably restrained itself.
It did not decide to slap a sponsor's logo across the baseline. The doubles alley remains unowned. "No-man's land" is No-advertiser's land, too. No dot-com — or dot-net — owns the net.
To be sure, the net posts and the walls around the major courts of most tournaments will forevermore try to sell you something as you try to mind your own business and watch a backhand, but the court itself remains untouched.
In today's stick-a-logo-on-it sports world, a paint job is hardly something to turn blue about.