Monday, September 04, 2006

RIP--Men's Tennis in the US

So, Andre Agassi's finally hung it up amid showers of tears and a bad back. But, what are the fans at the US Open really crying about? Is it the retirement of a hero? Nope. Indeed, they are crying that this is the last time they're going to care about men's tennis for years to come.

I find his career interesting as it relates to the state of the sport during his time. When he debuted, it was in the richest time in men's tennis. Conners and McEnroe were finishing their storied rivalry (in fact, his wins over these two solidified him as a threat to the crown), Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, and Michael Chang were in their primes, and competition in the division was something real. Agassi was able to become a big star (big enough to marry Brooke Shields, at least) as a result of 15 consecutive years of hot action. By the time he should have been in his prime, though, he was essentially out of the sport which opened the door for Pete Sampras and Jim Courier to dominate. Because of the lack of competition, the sport started to dwindle. Just when it was at it's lowest, Agassi returned, and the fans were ready to watch him retake and dominate the division. In the meantime, there have only been two champions worth noting: Andy Roddick and Roger Federer...mostly Federer. There are good players to be sure, but this kind of dominance turns people off. So, the big story for the US Open is Agassi's retirement and nobody cares about who actually wins now that he's out. Federer is men's tennis' only star, that is what depresses the fans.

At least women's tennis is still competitive, even after the Anna Kournikova debacle, as it has been for much of its modern history. But I expect a decade of floundering before the men's division finds somebody that captures audience's attention.