Open Schedule Is a Double Fault
Tuesday, September 9, 2008; 2:59 PM
The biggest surprise of the just-ended U.S. Open was not that Roger Federer won his 13th major title or that Serena Williams won her ninth.
It was that the men's final didn't start at 11:30 at night.
After all, if you believe the USTA or the tennis apologists, it is after midnight when the real electricity comes to the Open.
The stands are always less than half full and no one -- other than the TV people who rule the Open -- is happy when the matches drag on until, say, 2:11 a.m. the way the Rafael Nadal-Mardy Fish quarterfinal did last week. It isn't good for the players, it certainly isn't good for the fans and it isn't good for the sport since most of the country has to go to sleep no matter how wonderful the match might be.
But that's what the Open is about: late-night tennis. It is, without question, the most foolishly scheduled sports event on the calendar, worse even than Major League Baseball's postseason, and that's saying a lot.
The USTA insists on scheduling a women's match at night followed by a men's match no matter what the weather report may be, and no matter how late that may mean the men's match begins. If TV wants guaranteed tennis until close to 11 o'clock it isn't that hard to do: schedule two women's matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium one night with a men's match on Louis Armstrong. Then do the reverse the next night: a men's match starting at 8 o'clock on Ashe (followed by doubles) and two women's matches on Armstrong. That way the only match that might start after 9 o'clock is a best-of-three women's match and you are pretty certain to have singles until close to 11 o'clock for TV.
Perhaps worse than the middle-of-the-night matches is the fact that the USTA clearly could not care less about those who buy tickets for the afternoon matches. These are the real tennis fans, the ones who like to wander the outside courts looking for a great match or a rising young star tucked away on Court No. 6. They are about as likely to see Andy Roddick, James Blake or anyone named Williams as Redskins fans are likely to get out of the stadium formerly named for Jack Kent Cooke without sitting in traffic.
The USTA puts the big name Americans on at night time after time after time because TV wants them on at night. Then it goes around trumpeting "record-crowds," neglecting to mention that the size of Ashe Stadium (way too big, lots of nose-bleed seats) and the fact that the USTA made a (rare smart) decision several years back to sell grounds passes during the day makes it just about impossible not to draw "record," crowds.
Okay, enough USTA bashing-for the moment. On to the tennis.
Federer's victory over Andy Murray in the men's final made him the first player in history to win five straight titles at two different Grand Slam events. He just missed winning a sixth straight Wimbledon this summer and he's now won the last five Opens.
After he failed to win any of the first three majors this year and lost, shockingly, to Blake in the Olympic quarterfinals, there were actually people writing him off, acting as if his days as a major champion were over. He certainly wasn't as dominating as in the past but no one can continue on that pace forever. He still made the finals in three of the four majors and won the Open.