Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tennis Chatter: The Sunday Scramble

I feel as though I have a lot of catching up to do on here and in the tennis world in general, but as I surfed the web this morning checking out the latest scores and story lines, I realized that I really didn't miss that much over the last ten days.

As I promised, here is the second feature story I've done for our local paper, The Independent Record. It's been quite the learning experience for me over the last week to write these two stories. Though they dealt with the same event, they were vastly different in subject matter and leg work.

The first I had six days to work on, get interviews for, re-think and edit over and over again, but yesterday had me at the pole vault event for four-plus hours before heading home and hunkering down in my basement to crank out an equally-long story. I felt a bit of pressure, but lucky the words came off the keyboard with relative ease, which is always any writer's hope. I could tell you the dozen or so little things I found in the two stories that I was self-critical about, but instead I'm going to see these last seven days as a learning experience. What else could it be?

This next week, I'm doing two pieces (again, one feature, one "game-day") on the Shodair Soccer Classic happening here in Helena. I'm pretty pumped about being a part of the Shodair festivities this summer as my older brother was a participant years ago went the event was just getting off the ground. I know there will be some great stories to tell, I'll just have to dig deep to find them.

Being around pole vault reminded me of one thing yesterday: tennis really is a niche sport. As much as I think we all want tennis to succeed on a global stage, it is, and will always be, for us tennis enthusiasts. Yes, there will be times when the world's eyes are on our sport (think Wimbledon 2008), but for the most part, we bask in the quietness and uniqueness of this sport.

Such is the same in pole vault, which in and of itself is its own sport within track and field, but inspires such a niche and often cult-like following that it's pointless to ever try to make pole vault mainstream. You can't kick around the pole vault in the back yard or hit it against the wall, can you? It's always going to exist as it does: a sport that few love and are passionate about, but most have no idea what the hell is going on.

That's the thing I get most often when talking about tennis to others: I just don't get how it works. Yes, tennis scoring is beyond confusing, which I think plays a big role in why we will never be a football, soccer or basketball. And I'm not saying tennis should just hang out with its five fans and be happy for the rest of its existence, but there needs to be a realization on a bigger level that this kind of sport can only be so big, just like pole vault.

Perhaps I am speaking from a naive point of view. No, I wasn't alive when John McEnroe was America's bad boy and tennis stars were like rock stars. But our world has vastly changed since then ... it's hard to think tennis could ever have that status again.

With all that said, I think what Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have done for the sport is spectacular. As we head into the meat of the US Open Series schedule, I will be interested to watch just how things shape up. This past weekend was a blow to American tennis: Serena pulled out at the BOTW, Blake and Querrey both lost their semis at Indy, and Venus and Lindsay both pulled out of LA before they even hit a ball. Will these American tournaments live and die by the American participation? It's hard to tell.

It isn't hard to tell, however, that the entire tennis world - not just Americans - will be a little less interested in the Simon-Tursonov and Wozniak-Bartoli finals than had those aforementioned players won their matches yesterday. Will it be another USOS plagued by injuries and pull outs? I sure hope not.

But then, there's those things call the Olympics, too...

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