By Rick Jillson
It’s a good thing Roger Federer and the Williams sisters aren’t elite table tennis players. If they were, someone in the United States actually might have seen them compete (and I use that verb lightly) in today’s (Aug. 14) Olympic action.
Table tennis was televised this morning on MSNBC, along with men’s basketball, men’s volleyball, Greco-Roman wrestling, men’s beach volleyball, men’s handball, men’s water polo and badminton.
Synchronized diving? Check. 7:30 a.m. EST on Telemundo. I hope to never know what in the hell “team dressage” is, but I do know it is televised today on Oxygen.
As for Federer — the biggest name in men’s tennis — vs. James “the closest thing the United States has to a real professional tennis player who has never dated Mandy Moore” Blake, the match wasn’t available on my cable package. In fact, I have stayed up until I can’t see straight every night this week watching Flipper Feet Phelps and 8-year-old Chinese gymnasts and sand volleyball players dressed like rap video props compete for honor and country, and not only have I not seen a single moment of Olympic tennis, I haven’t heard the word tennis pass from the great Bob Costas’s lips.
Why, oh why is there zero interest in following the best tennis players in the world as they battle for gold? Is it because they play one another all the time anyway? Yeah, that’s part of it, I’m sure. Is it because the sport is dominated by athletes with powerful forehands and punchless personalities? Yes, I think that has something to do with it as well.
Maybe it’s also the fact that so many professional tennis players over the past two decades have seemed to care so little about country — treating Davis Cup like after-school detention and taking up shop in whatever nation allows them to live with the smallest tax burden. Maybe it’s because some of them tank matches so badly at times it invites criminal inquiry.
Whatever the reason, it’s a blessing that America missed Federer sleepwalking through a straight-sets loss to Blake, his first loss in nine career meetings. Perhaps Roger wanted to get it over with so he could settle in and catch some must-see TV.
Like men’s canoeing. At 8 p.m. Eastern on CNBC.
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