I was out having a few cocktails with a tennis “industry type” the other night, and we were contemplating a potential nightmare that could possibly come true — and now has. What if world No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal met Saturday in the semifinals of the ATP’s biggest event — the Masters Cup — and it wasn’t shown live in one of the biggest markets, the United States?
Aside from comments like “Don’t print this in your ****ing blog on that ****ing website,” we spoke of the significance of tennis in today’s sporting arena, national and worldwide. Sure Michigan vs. Ohio State on Saturday (which you international readers couldn’t give a flip about) is JUDGEMENT DAY according to ESPN, but Saturday is TENNIS JUDGEMENT DAY, Federer and Nadal in their final 2006 meeting. (As a 15-year resident of Michigan — Go Blue!)
Roger and Rafa will meet on Saturday in Shanghai, and after their meeting in the Wimbledon final (or French Open final) it is arguable THE BIGGEST MATCH of the year. Rafa has beaten Rog, the indisputable No. 1, in four of their five meetings in 2006. It is grudge-match time.
The match will (or would have) come on in the early morning in the U.S., which even on Saturday you’d think ESPN could fit something in with a scheduled line-up of taped fishing, hunting and hotrod shows (ESPN2), SportsCenter reruns (ESPN), infomercials and “classic” football and fight reruns (ESPN Classic), or news reruns (ESPN News). Heaven forbid a SportsCenter rerun or a rerun of a hunting show gets pre-empted for the tennis match of the year.
If you’re going to show the match on tape at 10 p.m. that night, after everyone has already checked the result on the internet (or paid to watch it on the internet), why not dish it off to The Tennis Channel or another network that can show it live? Hell, the WTA could have probably got the Versus network, which showed the WTA Tour Championships in the U.S., to show it live for you, ATP.
Show me another “major” sport that lets its biggest event of the year get shown on tape. I don’t care whether the problem is the Chinese time zone or competing with college football or the head of ATP television marketing was sick during that scheduling week. In this era of 900 cable and satellite channels, not being able to watch the Masters Cup semifinals of Federer vs. Nadal in the U.S. is just — plain — sad. Someone dropped the ball.
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