Thursday, February 15, 2007

New (Players) Please

AA few years ago the ATP did all it could in the advertising department with the "New Balls, Please" ad campaign. It was a creative sort of run. There were superhero pictures with players like Hewitt, Safin, Roddick and Coria all gracing the blue/gray ATP posters and billboards with a sort of attitude that said, 'Yeah, we know we're big stuff.'

But the thing is, the NBP generation certainly hasn't produced what the tour thought and hoped it would. Coria is still slam-less (see: '04 final meltdown for that explanation), while Roddick remains a one-slam wonder (see: Federer, Roger) while Safin and Hewitt are known more for being head cases than for their games.

While Federer may have saved that generation on his own, it seemed as though the late 90s guys passed on the torch to the wave of players we are just beginning to see emerge now. With the new issue of TENNIS Magazine out, the abundance of new stars is pared down for those of us who gets all the new -ovics mixed up with the -ovas and criss-crossed with the, get the point.

This "Hot Shot" section is one I really enjoyed. Though Nadal is the only Slam-winner of them all (he owns two French crowns), I don't think the hot shots of this generation will suffer the same fate as the lack-luster crew of the NBP campaign.

There is something about the Ivanovic/Vaidasova/Jankovic future of the WTA that I really like. There is personality, flair, drive and drama. There is also maturity, something we rarely see in women's tennis players prior to their 21st birthdays (see: Hingis, Martina). Is Vania King in the same league as these other girls? Well obviously not yet, but she certainly has the potential, and hey, TENNIS is giving its U.S. fans the optimism we all want.

Same goes for the men: look at that list! Nadal/Djokovic/Monfils/Bagdhatis and Gasquet sure make for a fun top five. What about Andy Murray? He's certainly up there, maybe just not as unknown as the latter four of that group. And while Nadal has been around a good while now, the guy is still young and still willing to do the publicity the ATP wants for a new sort of campaign. Sam Querrey falls in the King category: he can get there, he still has a way to go.

The fact is, the starts will just keep coming. For tennis today, however, I think it is necessary for fans to begin to establish relationships with players early. Look at the way those men listed above have already riled up crowds in many matches; that's something the women must learn to do as well, get some of that on-court spunk and get the crowd behind you. The last thing we need is an unpopular core of top five tennis players...something I doubt the Hot Shot Generation will be anything about.

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