By Jane Voigt
Washington D.C., July 29, 2013 — If you haven’t been to a pro tennis match lately, you are in for a treat. Especially if you are lucky enough to live within a reasonable distance from the many American hard court tournaments that make up The U. S. Open Series. You have five weeks to catch one.
The USTA, America’s answer to tennis government, hatched its brainchild — the U. S. Open Series — ten years ago this year. It was developed to promote the summer season of hard court tennis in a nation of players that grew up on them. Europe’s flavor of court leans toward red clay. Northern Europe’s tastes go green, for grass. And Australia has changed its mind so many times that it’s not clear if they like grass, red or green clay, or hard courts. We will leave them to their choices.
Players are sent to Atlanta, Stanford, Washington D.C. — home of Citi Open this week — Carlsbad, Montreal and Toronto, Cincinnati, Winston-Salem, and New Haven, where they vie for points while whacking away at those fuzzy yellow balls. The man and woman who chalk up the most points AND wins the U. S. Open singles title are rewarded with a bonus: $1 million US Dollars.
It’s quite the perk and it’s quite a task to attain. Leave it to the USTA to dangle a big juicy apple in front of players and keep it at a distance, like who wants to try for that?
Originally, way back in 2003, many players reacted to the dangling apple with a shrug of their collective shoulders, at least that was Svetlana Kuznetsova’s reaction in Toronto so many years back. She didn’t care what the USTA was up to. She would play her matches, do her level best, and if she won some bonus cash that was fine.
Generally, that’s the attitude today, too. Tennis players have enough on their courts, like 24/7 eat, breath, and play tennis, to worry about the dangling apple. When asked they acknowledge politely that the money is a nice incentive — and bonuses are paid to the top three finishers. However, the pot of gold gets lost along the way to Flushing Meadows.
And don’t forget. The mirror image buildup was staged across Europe this spring. Those clay court events were promoted as, ‘The Road to Roland Garros,’ and had a god-sized budget behind it. There wasn’t a pile of Euros awaiting Rafael Nadal, and who in their right mind would put together a string of red clay tournaments that lead to Roland Garros when he’s around. Might as well hand him the cash for petrol money in Monte Carlo, the kick-off spot for springtime on Europe’s red clay.
The thing that separates The U. S. Open Series from something like ‘The Road To Roland Garros’ is marketing. It is an American corporate art form. No one does it better. The Road to Roland Garros may have drawn attention and caused revenues to rise, but it’s a paltry show of promotional power compared with the 10-year old U. S. Open Series.
Bottom line … the USTA lives for The U. S. Open. It’s purpose might be to govern everything tennis and grow the game; however, it drools for the two weeks in late August and early September that spotlights them and all they have done to raise the level of spectacle to unimaginable heights … hint hint: The U. S. Open Series.
The Series’ title sponsor had been Olympus before Emirates Airlines signed a 7-year contract with the USTA early in 2012. Here’s how Emirates public relations’ arm describes its involvement.
The Emirates Airline US Open Series has established itself as a true regular season of hard court tennis, linking 10 summer tournaments to the US Open. Fans follow the action throughout the summer through national television coverage, culminating each week with back-to-back men’s and women’s finals every Sunday afternoon. Players battle for $40 million, including a chance for bonus prize money at the US Open. In 2012, Emirates Airline became the title sponsor of the Series. The Emirates Airline US Open Series is also supported by sponsors American Express and Evian.
In partnership with the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Emirates Airline announced a global, integrated sponsorship of the US Open and US Open Series in February 2012. As part of the agreement, Emirates becomes the “Official Airline of the US Open ” and the title sponsor of the “Emirates Airline US Open Series,” whose 10 events combine to form the summer hard court professional tennis season and lead into the US Open.
If you were a copy editor, you’d be running to the pencil sharpen right about now. Too wordy.
Nonetheless, the agreement does put tennis smack dab in front of millions of would-be fans during the couch-potato weekend hours. This speaks volumes because tennis traditionally ranks down near the WNBA when it comes to viewership. If it weren’t for the high-income brackets that involve themselves with our beloved sport, Emirates and the USTA would not give a whoop about any road or route to the U. S. Open. Let’s get real.
Plus, the stops in Montreal, Toronto, and Cincinnati are ATP Masters 1000 events and WTA Premier Mandatory events. All that means, the cream of the tour crops play in those draws.
Washington D. C. has been the home of a hard-court tournament since 1969, with or without the USTA’s marketing might. This week is another in its successful resume.
As you might expect, lots of American players are here, both WTA an ATP. Today, nearly 35% of the names had ‘(USA)’ written after them. Not all will make round two.
Wildcard Beatrice Capra, a product of the College Park Maryland Junior Tennis Champions Center, lost badly to Paula Ormaechea of Argentina late this afternoon: 61 61. Christina McHale lost to defending champion, Magdalena Rybarikova, 26 64 62.
McHale is still recovering from a lingering bout of mono, and hasn’t quite found her rhythm since bowing out in Cincinnati last year and canceling all tournaments for its remainder. She has a few weeks to get her groove back to the level of 2011 when she was seeded at large events and had scored wins over top ten players such as Caroline Wozniacki. The hill is steep, though, she’s currently ranked No. 93.
And as our coverage comes to a close for today, several other Americans are teetering on elimination: Wildcard Denis Kudla is a game away from losing to Aussie qualifier Samuel Groth; Mardy Fish is about to lose the first set to qualifier Matthew Ebden, also an Aussie. Earlier Somdev Devvarman defeated Lucky Loser Rhyne Willams 75 61. And, 2011 Citi Open Champion Radek Stepanek just sent Wildcard and NCAA star Steve Johnson on his way 76(3) 63.
That’s fine, really. Americans are known for resilience and determination, in addition to marketing savvy. The week is young inside the capital beltway of Washington D. C.