More hours of TV coverage in 2005 means even greater exposure for the game and those who play it. On top of the 115-plus hours of national coverage, The Tennis Channel will broadcast more than 100 hours of early-round coverage from seven US Open Series events. There will be back-to-back men’s and women’s finals coverage every Sunday at 3 p.m. (Eastern time), most on ESPN or ESPN2. No scrambling for listings, no scrolling through the TV Guide channel. If it’s 3 p.m. on Sunday, tennis is on your TV. Indeed, this is one revolution that most definitely will be televised.
“The US Open Series was an inspired idea bringing together the collective resources across the sport to empower promotion and raise fan interest,” says Mark Shapiro, ESPN executive vice president, programming and production. “We have expanded our US Open Series programming on ESPN2 and look forward to working with the USTA on building upon last year’s initial success.”
Building even more interest among fans—and most certainly among players—is the US Open Series Bonus Challenge, which links players’ performances at Series’ events to their singles prize money at the US Open. The top three men’s and women’s finishers will qualify for bonus bucks at the end of the Flushing fortnight, with the top man and woman playing for double US Open prize money—a potential $2 million payout. Last year’s US Open Series winners, Lindsay Davenport and Lleyton Hewitt, will have their work cut out in defending their titles, and that’s the whole idea. The bonus system was developed to produce more marquee matchups and ensure more high-caliber duels throughout the summer season. Fans benefit, TV benefits, players benefit.
“I think the US Open Series is a win-win for everybody involved in the sport of tennis,” says Andre Agassi, who finished third in the 2004 US Open Series. “It’s a win for the players because it gives us something to really focus on and to care about, to be motivated by. I think it’s great for fans because they have a way of understanding what tournaments we’re playing, what importance they do have. It’s a great thing for all the governing bodies of the sport to send a signal that we can work together.”
“Sports in America is about telling a season-long story with a big finale,” notes Kantarian. “And tennis now has that platform.”
And so, a new season begins, new storylines are about to unfold. The cast of characters is in place. The race commences in Indianapolis and ends in New York. Within those parameters, anything can happen—and probably will.
Nine cities, two countries, 10 tournaments, six weeks. Plenty of action. Riveting, revealing—and real.