Sportsbeat – 9/3/12

No matter who wins the 2012 US Open on the men’s and women’s side, the biggest story of the tournament was Andy Roddick’s surprise announcement that he would be calling it a career at a hastily called press conference at Arthur Ashe Stadium last Thursday.

Roddick kept his composure as he explained that he no longer felt that he had the energy and desire to compete on the pro tour any longer. He will now use the time to concentrate running his foundation and youth tennis center in Austin, Texas where he now makes his home.

When asked what he will miss the most about competing, Andy quickly replied, “All of you!” The media quickly laughed at the joke because it’s no secret that he has never been fond of the fourth estate. More often than not, he has acted peevish when asked legitimate questions that he would have preferred not been raised.

I remember asking him after he won his first round match in 2008 if he felt any regrets about taking part in American Express’s bizarre “Who stole Andy’s mojo?”ad campaign three years earlier. In 2005 Roddick lost his first match at the Open to the little-known Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in straight sets creating instant embarrassment for both himself and AmEx. “I never think about that!” snapped Roddick. I doubted the veracity of that statement then and my opinion hasn’t changed now.

It was hard not feel a bit sorry for France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who got bounced after losing his second round match despite being seeded fifth on the men’s side. I asked him if there is a big talent gap between the top four male players (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) and himself. “I would have to be say that there is,” Tsonga candidly replied. He then gave a variation on the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” line by saying that no matter how hard he works on the court, “he never gets rewarded” at the Grand Slam tournaments.

I asked James Blake, who made it to the third round at this year’s Open before being eliminated, if it was good for his sport that one per cent of the male tennis players win 99% of the big tournaments. “Actually, it is. When I first became a professional, the prize and endorsement money for golf and tennis was pretty much the same. Then Tiger came along and the interest in golf skyrocketed at our expense. “Novak, Roger, and Rafa do a great job of marketing our sport to everyone,” he said.

Starwood Hotels, whose lodging portfolio includes Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien Four Points and W Hotels, made fans at the Open by offering complimentary pedicab rides along the boardwalk between the Willets Point #7 train stop and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

Bravo to the Queens Economic Development Corporation for having a kiosk at the Open promoting all that our borough has to offer.

Tennis players are always aware of their corporate benefactors and they love it when the press queries them about their endorsement deals. Up and coming American tennis star Sloane Stephens was gushing over the fact that her likeness was plastered all over the boardwalk linking the #7 train and Flushing Meadows Park. James Blake, who normally, wears a Mets cap to his press conferences, sported instead a short and hat that read “Travis Mathew.” Blake informed us that Travis Mathew is an L.A.-based sportswear company that has signed him and golfer Bubba Watson to be their spokesmen.

Roger Federer has long been one of the more accessible superstars. When I passed him in the back hallways of Arthur Ashe Stadium last week I told him that I enjoyed his television commercial for Mercedes-Benz. The money shot has one of his young twin daughters throwing a stuffed toy at him right after he fastens his seat belt in the ad. Of course not a hair ever gets out of place and the smile is perfect since this is, after all,  suave and debonair Roger. He beamed and thanked me for saying that I thought that it was worthy of Clio consideration. (The Clios are advertising’s answer to the Oscars.)

Every year American Express hires MSG sports anchor Al Trautwig to interview current and former players at the Open. The nice part is that patrons get a chance to ask questions. Last Friday Al was talking with the recently retired Taylor Dent. The handsome and articulate Dent has always looked as if he came from Hollywood central casting. It’s a shame that he, like his good friend Robby Ginepri who is still playing, could always be counted on to lose at Flushing Meadows by  the fourth day of the Open. Of course back then nobody around here cared if Dent was eliminated early since we could always depend on either Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras, both Americans of course, to win the big trophy.

I asked Dent whether tennis will be in trouble if an American doesn’t start winning a US Open sometime soon. “That’s a good question. My feeling is that it’s not as crucial as it might have been a few years ago,” he stated.

The Tennis Channel, which is available on Time Warner Cable only as part of an extra-costing sports tier package, once again missed a golden opportunity at the US Open. As per their nickel-and-dime tradition, they neither took out a kiosk to promote their outlet to the general public, nor did they have a press event to let media get to know either their executives or broadcasters such as witty former player Justin Gimelstob.

The Golf Channel, which has obviously a similar niche appeal as the Tennis Channel, is available as part of basic packages on most cable and satellite providers. What separates the two is that the Golf Channel is owned by Philadelphia-based media behemoth, Comcast. The Tennis Channel is independently owned and thus lacks muscle with television operators which is why they should promote themselves where they can such as at American tennis’s marquee event.

The United States Tennis Association held a kick-off event for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month this past Saturday. Fighting childhood obesity has been a pet project of First Lady Michelle Obama. Coming out to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center to lend their support were gold medal-winning Olympic swimmers Dara Torres and Cullen Bryant, personal trainer and consultant to NBC’s popular reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” Bob Harper, and actress Christine Taylor (who is perhaps better known for being married to Ben Stiller.)

It’s hard to believe that the Baltimore Orioles have emerged to be the Yankees’ biggest threat in the American League. I had to check the box score in the papers to make sure that Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray weren’t still playing for them. OK, call me Rip Van Winkle.

After watching the Mets win five out of six against the Phillies and the Marlins on the road last week, it’s clear that our Flushing heroes are, to use a favorite term from team owner Fred Wilpon, playing meaning September games. Our guys are going all out to finish in third place in the National League East.

I was saddened to learn of the passing of veteran character actor and Forest Hills High School alumnus Stephen Franken. He was best known for succeeding Warren Beatty in the role of the foppish and wealthy high school rival of Dwayne Hickman’s Dobie Gillis on television’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in the early 1960s.

 

Pete Sampras Named Tennis Night in America Spokesman for 2011

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Pete Sampras, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, will serve as the first spokesman for “Tennis Night In America,” a joint promotional effort between the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and StarGames, Inc.

“Tennis Night in America,” the annual celebration of tennis that includes youth registration events at facilities around the country and concludes with the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden, will take place February 28, 2011.

“I am honored to be the first spokesperson for ‘Tennis Night in America’,” Sampras said. “Tennis was a great sport for me when I was young and having tennis facilities around the country come together to promote the game and the BNP Paribas Showdown makes for a great celebration for tennis.

“Last year Tennis Night had over 700 tennis facilities involved.  I would like to see that reach 1,000 in 2011.”

“Tennis Night in America” showcases tennis at local facilities around the country. In 2010, more than 700 tennis clubs and recreation centers hosted open houses, clinics and parties. Along with the festivities was the USTA’s Youth Registration Night, the organization’s largest youth tennis recruitment effort.

“Tennis Night in America is a great platform to raise awareness of our sport, and now with the help of one of tennis’ greatest stars, we can raise the level even higher,” said Kurt Kamperman, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, USTA.  “We believe Tennis Night can be a platform to kick off the tennis season in hundreds of markets throughout the United States.”

Sampras, who began his professional career at the age of 16 in 1988, holds 14 Grand Slam singles titles, the most Wimbledon titles (7), two Australian Open titles, five US Open singles titles, and the record for the most number of weeks as World No. 1 with a total of 286 weeks.

Sampras debuted in 1988 and played his last professional tournament in 2002 when he captured the US Open, defeating longtime rival Agassi in the final. Sampras walked away with a total of 64 singles titles and a World No. 1 ranking, which he held for a record six consecutive years from 1993 – 1998. Sampras was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2007.

In addition to serving as the Tennis Night in America spokesman, Sampras will also play in the BNP Paribas Showdown. In 2011 the event will renew classic rivalries of the 80’s and 90’s, as John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl will compete in a one set pro match (first player to win eight games) followed by a best of three set match between Sampras and Andre Agassi. The four all-time greats have won a combined 37 Grand Slam Singles titles and 295 ATP Tour events.

“Tennis Night in America” began in 2009 and is a partnership between the USTA and StarGames, the co-promoter of the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden.

“We started ‘Tennis Night in America’ as a promotional idea, and with the partnership of the USTA, it has grown into an exciting grassroots program to involve the broad tennis community,” said Jerry Solomon, President and CEO of StarGames. “With Pete’s support and involvement this year, the whole concept is taken to an even greater level. Pete has been an inspiration to so many tennis players, and we look forward to him spreading the message of the game on this special day.”

The BNP Paribas Showdown is produced by StarGames and MSG Sports. Tickets will officially go on sale September 27 @ 10:00 a.m. and can be purchased at the Madison Square Garden box office and all Ticketmaster outlets. BNP Paribas Showdown information, including an opportunity to sign up for pre-sale alerts prior to tickets going on sale, can be found at www.tennisshowdown.com.

For more information on “Tennis Night in America,” fans around the country can visit www.tennisnight.com.