Highly-respected Washington Post columnist and ESPN personality Michael Wilbon penned an insightful piece on the state of US tennis through the lens of the Wimbledon men's and ladies' finals and, more specifically, the need for rivalries such as Federer-Nadal and Venus-Serena to bring US fans back to tennis.
But, Wilbon isn't feeling very confident that even those rivalries can stop the slow bleeding of casual fans away from the game. He says the sport needs a "Tiger Woods-like figure on the men's side...or maybe brothers who have the impact and star appeal of Serena and Venus Williams."
And why isn't Fed vs. Rafa enough you might ask? Wilbon has his guesses:
"...we don't like to admit it but we're more than a bit xenophobic when it comes to our sports. We're still begrudgingly accepting international stars in the NBA, even though they've been established since the early 1990s and players such as Toni Kukoc, Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker won enough to be beyond suspicion as "foreign players." Americans are the only people on the planet who don't embrace soccer, mostly because it ain't ours. And as much as we might be able to appreciate the greatness of Federer and Nadal, the bet here is we're not going to identify with them enough to become rabid followers of what they do."Sad, but true. We Americans can be so self-absorbed.
Okay fine, but what about our own home-grown ballers like Andy Roddick or James Blake? Why aren't they drawing fans in droves the way John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors did back in the day?? "[They] simply don't win enough or do it charismatically enough to drive Americans to their TV sets or the tennis courts. They're both sweet enough guys; neither is inspiring," says Wilbon. Again, sad but true.
Unfortunately, he isn't seeing any light at the end of the tennis tunnel saying,
Maybe if the Federer-Nadal rivalry continues on, say, through the U.S. Open in September and beyond, more people will come to the tent to watch. But even then it's probably a leap of faith to bet on it.I prefer to lean more towards the belief that everything is cyclical and some day tennis will gain the respect and fan base that it deserves in the US. I don't think it could ever be at the extraordinary levels seen during the 70's and 80's, though, because it's a global game now with new countries taking a piece of the pie every day and other sports demanding attention.
Maybe that's sad, but I believe it's true.
(image via Getty)