Tennis Could Use a Jim Nantz of Its Own
by Dan Martin | April 15th, 2008, 9:21 am
  • 5 Comments

I have to confess that I have warmed up to golf even though I have never played one hole let alone one round that did not involve put-put. The Masters ended Sunday and the media coverage surrounding the event was so saccharin that one would think the Dali Lama was playing golf in the Grand Canyon with a club made from a branch derived from one of the oldest Redwoods in the world. ESPN “proudly presents” non-live coverage of The Masters?!?! The entire Masters phenomenon irks me due to its claims of a “tradition unlike any other” and jacket ceremonies in Butler Cabin. Plenty of sports have great tradition. The Kentucky Derby is classy, except for parts of the infield, and it has been run every year since 1875. Of course, Wimbledon, the French Open and Davis Cup also have their share of tradition. Heck, court tennis is referenced in the writings of William Shakespeare and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. How is that for tradition!

When it comes to action and athleticism, I will place tennis head-to-head with any sport under the sun. Tennis requires all of the footwork of basketball without the benefits of time-outs, coaching and substitutions. Tennis involves all of the massive application of hand eye coordination that baseball requires, but does so time and time again rather than letting a player eat sun flower seeds between 4 or 5 at bats in a given game. Tennis requires the steely nerve of golf but also requires a player to concentrate and execute difficult techniques while running. For these reasons and more, tennis is one of the most taxing sports in the world.

The one thing golf has over tennis in the U.S. is positive media treatment. This is partially a result of 3 of golf’s 4 majors being located on U.S. soil. It is also a result of players having 15-25 years on tour to develop rapport with fans rather than the much shorter career of the average professional tennis player. It is also the result of sports journalists such as Jim Nantz. Right as Nantz finishes announcing the NCAA Men’s Final Four, he heads off to The Masters. Nantz is a CBS announcer for just about every major sporting event covered by the network. He also played golf for the University of Houston and was Fred Couples’ roommate.

When Nantz makes a plug for golf while commenting on another major sport, it is an insiders’ plug. Nantz understands golf even if the average sports fan does not associate him with golf. His plugs for The Masters during the NCAA Final Four were quite good. Jim Courier, John McEnroe, Luke Jensen, and Patrick McEnroe all played tennis and comment on their former sport. No former tennis player seems to comment on other major sporting events. Developing some broadcasting breadth would help tennis’ prospects and exposure. Jim Courier could likely announce a baseball game. John McEnroe played a lot of team sports growing up. If former professional tennis players are not able or willing to broaden their broadcasting duties, tennis needs to find a solid college player who is gregarious enough to study journalism and become the next Jim Nantz. Tennis is a great sport, but many journalists simply struggle in their reporting on the sport. Awkward phrases such as “Nadal won the game versus Roger Federer in Paris to capture the French Open” can be avoided with more tennis players entering general sports journalism.

PS – The Masters’ par 3 event the day before actual play starts is a nice idea that tennis could borrow. Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is a similar event at the U.S. Open, but maybe Wimbledon could hold some sort of skills contest for previous champions and a legends doubles tournament the Sunday before the tournament begins. Seeing Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe try to hit the most accurate drop volley could be fun. Watching Stefan Edberg and Andre Agassi play doubles against Pete Sampras and Boris Becker would also have a certain appeal. Tennis has tradition and should find more positive ways to utilize it.


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5 Comments for Tennis Could Use a Jim Nantz of Its Own

jane Says:

“For these reasons and more, tennis is one of the most taxing sports in the world.”

And yet it has probably THE longest playing season, as I’ve opined elsewhere; what’s the deal?


jane Says:

“Tennis has tradition and should find more positive ways to utilize it.”

More marketing & more media exposure could help, but the best way to approach this is up in the air. The question is how to get more exposure for tennis in a world inundated with media coverage?

Holding the “drop shot” contest or doubles match that you mention would certainly spur aficionados but would it bring new fans to tennis? Same with having Johnny Mac call a basketball match; would it help tennis’ exposure? Maybe. I’m not sure.

Perhaps tennis needs more stand-out personalities, rivalries and controversies – and maybe the media could play to that a little?

The reality – not that it’s my opinion or to my favor – is that those sorts of things generate interest, grab attention and get headlines. Look at Youzhny’s on court, one man, goth-act. Or Djoker’s widely publicized impersonations. How many You Tube hits did they get? Even CNN reported on Youzhny’s meltdown for crying out loud. Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT saying players should start drawing blood on the courts or turning the sport into sideshows – so please don’t misunderstand me.

What I am saying is that it is a FACT that controversies and unique personalities draw attention.

Maybe tennis pundits, player managers and CEOs should consider how this notion could be harnessed in a more sane and less damaging way to work to the sports advantage?

Promote the rivalries, have the players do talk show circuits.. When Sharapova played ping-pong on Ellen, it was a hoot to watch, and it likely garnered Maria and tennis a little more notice. Same with Roddick’s hosting of SNL, and Djoko’s appearance on Leno.

It’s true that when Connors or McEnroe pulled their on-court antics, or when Boris Becker, a lively teenager, dived all over the court, or Borg, a mysterious enigma with rock star appeal, played, there seemed to be more public interest in the sport and the players who played it.

Is it the changing times, the fact that most players on the tour are so respectful and professional now, that makes tennis less appealing? Is it the fact that there are more sports specialty channels and niche markets? I honestly have no idea.

Golf is a completely different species than tennis to me, as are team sports.

Tennis is the most exciting individual sport to watch and that’s due to the game and its inherent drama, but it also has a lot to do with the on and off court personalities of individual players – the stars of the game – and how they match up.


Dan Martin Says:

I agree the diagnosis is easier than the treatment for tennis. The thing I noticed Nantz do on Sunday was make a big deal about the sacrifices the champion’s parents had made in order to attend junior golf events etc. The same exact things could be said about most tennis players but no one makes a big deal out of this. Maybe Jim Courier’s movie will give insight into how hard it is to even make it to the ATP or WTA tour, but if that message was being preached by a regular sports journalist the message might be heard by a larger audience.


Dan Martin Says:

Jane playing tennis from the first week of January through mid November (late November if in the Davis Cup finals) makes no sense. Look at Estoril this week. It is a 32 player draw (1 round shorter than the NCAA hoops field of 64). How many years do the favorites get bounced in single elimination play in NCAA basketball? It is exceedingly hard to win 6 straight games of basketball in single elimination play even with a field seeded all the way to the bottom. Tennis routinely asks its players to engage in that blood sport or harder (128 player draw only seeded through the top 32) every single week between January 1 and November 15 or so. It is a crazy schedule that really makes little sense.


jane Says:

Dan,

I agree 100%.

So what is to be done about the grueling ATP schedule? Any suggestions??

A piece on that would be very interesting and should generate good feedback. I know a lot of posters on this blog have griped about the schedule at one time or another.

Although we love tennis, we love our players too, and without them, where would tennis be? The players need more down-time and then there will be less injuries and more exciting contests.

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