SBD/Issue 241/Leagues & Governing Bodies

WTA Aims To Alter Focus As Talent On Tour Becomes More Global

Top-Seeded Caroline
Wozniacki Is From Denmark

The U.S. Open begins today, and as the geographical center of talent in women's tennis "migrates farther eastward," the question facing the WTA Tour is whether it matters if the "bulk of the players on tour come from a different part of the world than the bulk of the people supporting it," according to John Branch of the N.Y. TIMES. Twenty-six of the top-50 ranked female players are from Eastern Europe, compared to just six in '90. There are just three U.S. players in the top 50. Branch notes in "some ways, the proliferation of Russian and Eastern European players on the tour is similar to the influx of South Korean women" on the LPGA. The "challenges and opportunities facing the women’s tour are not as striking on the men’s tour, which remains, for now, centered on Western Europe." Still, in the WTA's "perfect world, the rankings would have an even distribution of players from as many countries as possible." The Tour has "broadened its breadth of major sponsors, but none are based where a majority of players come from." Individual players, too, "find few sponsors back home" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/30). The N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE's Michael Kimmelman writes female tennis players have "certainly never hit harder and not just on account of improved equipment." They are "stronger, bigger, faster, better trained." The top 100-ranked players "now come from 33 countries, most of the best" from Eastern Europe, and "America’s problem, if there is one, may be a lack of urgency and the fierce competition from other sports." One positive is that tennis has "developed a larger, increasingly global audience," and now the WTA Tour is "banking on China." WTA Tour President David Shoemaker said, "I have no doubt that there will be a Chinese No. 1. People say the Chinese don’t know how to develop players, that they’re too rigid, but they’re wrong" (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 8/29 issue).

NATIONAL EMERGENCY? In L.A., Diane Pucin reports at the U.S. Open, "where Americans love to cheer for their own, the women's draw is missing any title contenders" from the U.S. outside of Venus Williams, who has won the event twice but not since '01. The tournament's main draw includes 12 U.S. women, but only four "got in without either qualifying or receiving a wild card." Tennis Channel analyst Jimmy Connors said, "We should have been worrying about this a long time ago." ESPN Senior VP/Programming & Acquisitions Len DeLuca said, "We need to dig deep and make the (other American players) interesting or provocative or entertaining as possible and try to steer our audience into having a great appreciation for these up-and-coming players" (L.A. TIMES, 8/30). In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes under the header, "With U.S. Open On Tap, Future Of American Tennis Looks Bright." Bondy: "Time is running out on tennis around here, whether or not anybody wants to admit as much. People will always come to the Open, a special TV event. The TV ratings, however, are certain to shrink, as long as we stink" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/30).

NOT AS BAD AS IT LOOKS: In San Diego, Mark Zeigler notes tennis "at the professional level -- usually a key determinant of a sport’s general interest -- is at its lowest ebb in decades for Americans," but participation and retail numbers "across the country are headed in the exact opposite direction." A study from the Physical Activity Council shows that tennis "saw its participation numbers in the United States grow" 43% from '00-09, the most among "traditional" participation sports. Retail figures "showed similar spikes." DeLuca said, "This is a global sport. ... Yeah, it’s great to have Americans up there. But the sport stands on its own" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 8/30).

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