The USTA, the multi-million dollar American sports federation that in theory is supposed to be supporting and advocating for tennis players in the US, seems to be making some pretty poor decisions lately.
1. The grounds of the USTABJKNTC — The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Okay, the grounds. Too many people are wedged onto the grounds during the US Open. Lines are long, facilities are less than impressive in some cases, and food/water are horrendously overpriced even for a sporting event. Early on, the ushers were either poorly trained or too intimidated to actually enforce rules about movement while the ball was in play on Armstrong and the Grandstand. The better venues, Armstrong and the Grandstand, are going to be demolished and rebuilt elsewhere on the grounds, leaving the impersonal behemoth of Ashe. And Ashe has no roof and no plan to get one in the foreseeable future, leaving the tournament at the mercy of September weather in New York, which usually sees the dregs of hurricanes as they disperse along the northern stretch of the East Coast.
2. Scheduling. Oy. Look, I get that the tournament wants to put big names on Ashe to attract big crowds, but the early rounds were uncompetitive at best. Beat downs would be more accurate. That’s not fun tennis to watch. It’s especially not fun to watch when the average ticket price for Ashe is more than $280 (according to @seatgeek via Jon Wertheim). It’s cheaper to buy a general admission day pass ($~70) and migrate from outer court to outer court or stake out an unreserved seat on Armstrong. Beyond that, stretching the first round over three days, then forcing Super Saturday screams of being a money grab. Instead it ends up with a less competitive men’s final played on Sunday…or Monday for the last five years, meaning vendors, advertisers, and broadcasters lose. Fans, too, except they seem less important in the USTA’s decision making.
Stretching the schedule further seems like an even bigger money grab to me; all the other majors manage to fit everything in two weeks; it’s not as if there’s more tennis going on at the US Open than at the French or Wimbledon. More days is just more opportunity to sell tickets and advertising, and does neither the players nor the fans any good. Unless the USTA is going to increase prize money accordingly or drop ticket prices since presumably fewer matches would be available per day? No, I didn’t think so.
3. Taylor Townsend. Read this piece in the WSJ and this follow up with tennis legend Martina Navratilova and Lindsay Davenport, along with C-Note’s take on SI’s tennis page. I find it infuriating and offensive that adults are telling a teenager who is winning and ranked #1 in the world to get into “better” shape. If she were a boy, would they do that? If she weren’t black? After all, the USTA supported Mardy Fish for years without a major victory without telling him to lose the extra 30 lbs he was carrying around. Yet it’s appropriate to tell that to a teenager, to reinforce every body image stereotype that mainstream media?
Updated: apparently the USTA’s party line is that the whole thing was a miscommunication; they weren’t withholding money or refusing to support her entry into tournaments. I call bullshit on that: the USTA is trying to walk the whole thing back because of the monumental tide of bad press and ill opinion unleashed.