Tuesday, September 15, 2009

America's US Open Report Card - Fail.

The media coverage of this years US Open tennis tournament was as atrocious and nationalistic as I’ve ever seen. Granted, I’ve only been following tennis closely for about three years, but during that time I have watched pretty much every minute of every Grand Slam that I can get my hands on in America. Even setting aside the usual headaches of trying to find tennis matches in real time, this year's tournament was home to many egregious faults.
            First, Dinara Safina. Now, I know many people don’t care for her because of her emotional fragility and her tendency to blame her troubles on anything but herself, but let’s be fair. Whether you agree with the ranking system or not, the girl is the number one women’s player on the tour. And she has been for some time. She earned it. At the end of the first week of the tournament, Dinara Safina (remember, number one in the world) was moved off the main court. For whom, you might ask, was she bumped? Roger Federer? Rafa Nadal? Even perhaps Andy Roddick or Serena Williams? No. James Blake (24) vs. Tommy Robredo (16). Yes, men’s matches typically draw a larger crowd than women’s. Yes, James Blake is an American. Does that excuse what was done? I don’t think so. Would this have happened in Australia, Paris, or at Wimbledon? Never. Never in a million years. She had the right to voice a complaint. Our media ridicules her for stating that she feels disrespected. Fail.
            Next, Melanie Oudin. Up front, let me say I love watching this kid as much as the next person. I’m happy American tennis has something to look forward to. After this US Open, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know who she is. Which is great. She deserves it and I’m happy for her. My question is this: will anyone remember Yanina Wickmayer? Wickmayer began the tournament ranked number 50. Oudin began at 70. Each made it into the second week, an unexpected feat. Oudin couldn’t change hotels without it being a major news story. I still don’t know what country Wickmayer is from. What is the big difference between them? What makes Melanie Oudin worthy of a media feeding frenzy? There’s only one answer, and it’s simple. She’s American. There was a moment, at the end of the quarterfinal match in which Caroline Wozniacki beat Melanie Oudin, where I was so proud of my countrymen (and women). The on-court reporter asked the following question: What do you think of your chances in your next match, I mean you’re playing Wickmayer…(crowd boos, reporter asks “What did I say?”) It wasn’t what she said but how she said Wickmayer. She might as well of called her a gnat or something equally insignificant. Like she couldn’t even believe she was saying Wickmayer had made it to the semifinal. After we just spent a week expounding on the potential greatness of Oudin. More disrespect for a non-American.  They said the word “Belgian” repeatedly in a similar tone…as if they really meant ‘cockroach’ or ‘leper.’ Fail, part two.
            Third, if Caroline (not Carolyn, genius announcers…jeesh, it’s not even a difficult name) Wozniacki has managed to retain any shred of respect for America after her two weeks here, I would be surprised. Because I wouldn’t have, if I were her. The first problem was the on-court interview mentioned above. Caroline Wozniacki was making her first appearance in the quarterfinals, which means (of course) she had just made it through to her first ever semifinal. We interviewed Melanie Oudin first. On the court. While Wozniacki waited. She took it in stride, with a beautiful smile. The second insult came during her semifinal (the first one ever, remember?). Because of weather delays, only about 300 fans watched her and that other girl…oh yeah, it was Wickmayer again…as she made it to her first Grand Slam final. Which makes those 300 people extremely special, since no one watching TV saw one minute of that match. Not. One. Minute. We didn’t see them play, we didn’t see her win, no one interviewed her on-court, and the press conference wasn’t aired until the next day. I got the feeling that poor Caroline was standing victorious on the other court, waiting for a reporter that never came. Instead we watched Serena do terribly important things like talk to Venus outside the locker room, walk to and from her press conference, and lose her temper on court for the twentieth time in half an hour. Fail, part tres.
            Okay, Serena lost her cool (an understatement, I realize) on court and ended up losing her match as a result. We all saw it live, and it was obviously inappropriate behavior for which she deserved to be ejected from the match. In my opinion, she needs to miss out on next years Grand Slams as well. $10K (the amount of her fine) is a slow day’s income for her. CBS must have replayed the footage twenty times in the next hour. When they weren’t replaying the footage, they were talking about what happened and stalking Serena around the grounds. A fair amount of time was also spent cleaning up the audio from the court so we could all hear clearly that Serena both cursed at and threatened the (admittedly incorrect) line judge. I didn’t need them to verify that for me. They wouldn’t have charged her a point penalty unless she deserved it. I’m sure there was nothing better they could have been spending their time on. Like another semifinal or an interview with Caroline Wozniacki. It makes much more sense to focus on negative, inappropriate behavior rather than interview an always smiling, classy nineteen year old girl who just made her first semifinal. I totally get it. Right.
            Last, but not least, the post-final interviews. Caroline Wozniacki (bet you won’t forget her name now, huh), after acknowledging that she is the first professional tennis player from Denmark to make a Grand Slam final, asked to say a few words in Danish. Hesitation. Okay. Then she asked to say a few words in Polish. Longer hesitation in which Wozniacki grabbed the mic and started talking. After winning the following day, Juan Martin Del Potro asked to say a few words in Spanish. Because he’s from Argentina. Where people are watching who speak Spanish. He was given a reluctant go-ahead and advised to keep it short. Are you kidding me? He just won his first major title, he beat Roger Federer, let him do whatever he wants! Fail, fail, fail.
I cannot imagine even one of these incidents taking place anywhere but on American soil. If CBS is going to steal coverage from the Tennis Channel, or even ESPN, they are going to have to learn something about professional tennis as well as it's fans. It’s not all about America. Typically it's very little about America, since our players (with a few exceptions: V. Williams, S. Williams, and A. Roddick) very rarely make the news in tennis world. People who watch tennis want to see the best players, the best matches. Do I like to see Americans win? Of course. Do I enjoy watching Federer, Nadal, Azarenka, Demetieva, and many other non-Americans play? Sure. In fact, those are some of my favorite players. Coverage like we experienced the past two weeks illustrates why our country is disliked by so many. Professional sports, especially those that are inherently international, have no room for the kind of bias that was displayed by our reporters and tournament directors. It will get us nowhere. The media has a responsibility to become better ambassadors for our country, and of good will in general. If not, perhaps I will follow Roger Federer back to Switzerland. Better to be annoyingly neutral than outrageously prejudiced.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you enjoyed the US Open a lot more than your headline indicates. I thought ESPN, in their first year of coverage, did quite well. In fact, most of the tennis writers I follow, Jon Wertheim at SI being the guru, agreed. I missed the quirky nature of USA Network's 25 years, but ESPN was the right move.

    As far as the "pro-US" coverage, it's NOTHING compared to what goes on at Wimbledon or the Australian Open (I've never been to Roland Garros)

    Great writing by the way. I'm not sure how I got directed to this blog but I enjoyed your piece.