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The Ultra Major? 11/20/2010 - 10:45 PM

Sod by Pete Bodo

If you're anything like me, you're thinking: Okay, let's get this baby over and done with. We're down to the last official tournament of the year, the ATP World Tour Final, and it's a big one—theoretically. But theory and reality are two different things, and the best we can say about the year-end championships is that it's a work in progress. Has been for a long time. Whether it can ever get where it purports to go, where many think it should go, is a question that remains unanswered.

Nobody ever seems really sure what to make of the YEC, by whatever name it travels under (that, I think, is part of the problem, but beyond our scope at the moment). This is, in a roundabout way, a testament to the four-cornered game that has proven to be remarkably resistant to alteration. Think about it: the four Grand Slam events have, for all practical purposes, been the only tournaments that really matter. That this has remained so despite the convulsions of the Open era, in which so many other aspects of the traditional game have fallen by the wayside, is remarkable. And it has to be discouraging for the visionaries who predicted or tried to effect a genuine revolution in how the game is adminstered and presented.

The four "majors" were once vulnerable and might have suffered a loss of status for various reasons. Instead they've grown stronger. This is a testament to how well-managed they've been in recent years. The Australian Open was dead in the water as recently as the early 1980s, due mainly to its awkward position on the calendar (it was once the final official tournament of the year, played during the holiday season). The timing of the event did not play well with players who were weary of travel and, much like today, prone to ask, When do we get some time off?

Fortunately for the status quo, the Australian Open re-invented itself with both a new date (it became the first Grand Slam of the year, played after an adequate interval for the holidays) and a new facility—an effective one-two punch that was bold, risky, and in retrospect, prescient.

Early in the Open era (we're talking about the 1970s) the French Open was woefully behind the times,  but an aggressive marketing strategy and infrasructural changes at the Roland Garros venue saved the day. It also didn't hurt that the advent of Open tennis helped break the Anglo-Australian stranglehold on the game. When players bred on red clay—think Bjorn Borg, Ilie Nastase, Adriano Panatta—rose to stardom, they took the red dirt tournament with them. Borg stood heads and shoulders above the other emerging European stars, and he deserves credit (which he rarely gets) for making Roland Garros relevant in the pro era. He was at his very best on clay, but able to dominate world tennis. This raised the stock of clay enormously.

Murray The U.S. Open did not have Australia's awkward calendar slot, but like the Down Under Slam, it was stuck in a facility (the private West Side Tennis Club, in Forest Hills, NY) that was no longer appropriate in the Open era. The tournament always had two huge advantages: the popularity of tennis in the U.S. and the preponderance of top players who were American. Although those two advantages might have been adequate to tide the U.S. Open through the growing pains of the Open era in and of themselves, the lords of the U.S. game, to their credit, aggressively pursued a growth strategy for the new era.

By moving from the WSTC to a new, "public" facility in 1978, the U.S. Open guaranteed its continuing success, set a percedent that the Australians would follow, and moved into a suddenly available niche that neither the French Open nor Wimbledon needed or particularly wanted to occupy. It was a terrific bit of market creation and/or exploitation. At a time when everyone was talking about the reshaping of tennis, the U.S. Open and then the Australian Open carved out identities that catered to the emerging sensibility.

Wimbledon, being what it is, didn't need to do much. The tournament's stroke of genius was (and continues to be) resisting pressure to re-invent itself. As the other majors were upgraded and re-conceived, Wimbledon officials seemed to recognize that the traditional baseline values and appeal of tennis were still valid, and they understood that as the other tournaments surrendered their cloak of exclusivity, Wimbledon would do well by cultivating it's elitist aura—while making subtle but wise changes to prevent it from becoming a mere curiosity, or anachronism.

So the Grand Slams found a way to remain relevant, the cornerstones of the game. This has hurt the year-end championships, which certainly would be a bigger deal if the majors hadn't been so successful in keeping control of the high ground. Given the way the pro tour developed, it would seem a given that the year-end championships would, if anything, eclipse the individual Grand Slam events. In the best of the world as envisioned by the professional establishment (the ATP), the YEC would naturally become the ne plus ultra among tournaments.

This, incidentally, is one of the reasons the round-robin format has proven so popular to promoters and administrators. How can you compare a single-elimination, luck-of-the-draw tournament with an eight-manm round-robin format in which every match is the de facto equivalent on paper of a tantalizing Masters Series or even Grand Slam semi or final? Today's first singles match (Soderling vs. Murray) is a testament to the genius of the format, as well as the mentality that created it.

I'll have more to say about this subject in the near future, but the main point for now is that despite the concept of the event (a year-end playoff among the top players) and the compelling format, the year-end championships, while undeniably important, has never really challenged the vaunted place of  the Grand Slams, nor has it been embraced for what it clearly wants to be—the ultra major. That won't diminish the enjoyment we take out of the next week, but it raises some questions and helps define how and why tennis still remains different—decentralized, parochial (loosely speaking), individualistic—from our other major sports.

Enjoy the tennis, everyone. Let's get it started!


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Posted by Goldilocks 11/21/2010 at 06:03 PM

By the way, I really enjoyed seeing Mr. Diego Maradona and Mr. O´Sullivan, among other celebrities, during Federer-Ferrer match. Hmmmm, this makes me wonder, since I´m such a celebrity ..... (fill in the blank), will I see any in the flesh on Saturday and Sunday? Interesting!!!!

Speaking of semi-finals and final, when I was purchasing tickets for these matches via Viagogo, I asked specifically for the best seat in the house on Sunday and they recommended some seats in Level 1 that says: If you want to see Nadal in the final blah blah blah. I was like: How can they be sure that he´s gonna make it to the final? Men, those businessmen, they would do anything to sell. But since I´m such a gullible Rafa fan, yep, they sell, I buy.

Posted by CL 11/21/2010 at 06:05 PM

sisu - you're right about the dreaded fear of 'dead air' - its all radio's fault..dead air on radio meant that listeners would turn the dial til they got some non dead air...apparently the concept that there our PICTURES **gasp** on tv continues to escape sports producers. But I honestly have not noticed Jason and Robbie talking any LESS that Lief and Jimmy...even in the past. And of course, my own feeling is that Robbie especially has fallen so very deeply and irretrievably in love with Rafa that 1.)Rafa is a constant presence even when he isn't even playing and 2.) Robbie is about as 'fair and balanced' when it comes to Rafa as a certain Faux 'News Org.is re S. Palin. I can deal w/over the top praise for a player..heaven knows that Fed has gotten enough over the years, but honestly, I think Robbie and Jason's infatuation has gotten so out of hand, they all need to just get a room. ;-))

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 06:08 PM

Goldilocks I like your spirit thats the way

I am going to the AO 2011 and have already got tickets for the mens and womens finals plus both men s/finals.Hoping this time Rafa makes it to the 2nd week lol!

I will also purchese tickets to both the finals at Rome and RG 2011 again hoping that Rafa makes both.I hope I havent jinxed him I will die if that happens lol!

Posted by sf 11/21/2010 at 06:09 PM

am,

thanks for taking my request into advisement! (that's a big word i heard on some old tv show, haha).

ferru is le sod's next opponent, and while it may seem "easier," let's remember ferru won their last meeting and, on a good day, can repeat. so, fingers crossed.

meanwhile congrats roger and his multitude of fans. commies ferru and his fans (i prayed for you, bro, but the tennis gawds didnt hear me). just lay down like an obedient dog before le sod on tuesday, and all your woes will go away, ok. then, take your vengeance on that spoiled brit (oops, he says he's scot) on thurs!!

Posted by chicklet 11/21/2010 at 06:12 PM

In case anyone missed it, here is a link to the mini ceremony in honor of Moya.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9a0zLXkxAY

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 06:13 PM

SF Well I am sure Robin will do better next game.I thought he would win against Murray after Murrays performance of late.Well Roger had a 10-0 against David so I didnt think he would have any trouble today at all.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 06:14 PM

Chicklet Hi!

Long time no see here.Thanks for that link

Posted by chicklet 11/21/2010 at 06:21 PM

Hi AM!
I've lurked around a little, but after the slams, I needed a tennis break. Between work and Thanksgiving, I don't think I'll be watching much of the WTF either.

It was great to see Murray play so well today. I'm actually pulling for him to take this whole thing, so he will obviously implode in his next two matches.

Posted by CWATC 11/21/2010 at 06:31 PM

Here is a link to Roger's fan favorite presentation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekZVnqlw2oY

Lol, called his fans the "federers".
Guess he knew better than to say "fedtards" How about "fedfans"?
We should give him some better suggestions for next time.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 06:49 PM

Chicklet I think at this time of the year all fans are looking for a break.I too was pleased with Murrays game today.Though lets see if he can keep up this level of play.

Posted by Goldilocks 11/21/2010 at 06:56 PM


CWATC: Thanks for the link. Now I will pay attention to every word in his speech.

AM, thanks.

I´m so happy for you. Really. I´m pretty sure you´re gonna enjoy every second of these events. I wish I could go to AO 2011, Rome 2011 and RG 2011, just like you, but unfortunately I can´t. My husband and I are doing Monte Carlo next year, maybe Rome, too. We gonna se, no? But Monte Carlo is a sure thing.

Hopefully, I can go to the AO 2012. My youngest daughter is going to college to study Economics (she wants to be a "Certified Public Accontant" someday) for four years in Australia starting by fall next year. So I have two important reasons to go to Australia, do AO 2012 and visit my daughter, you know, the old adage: kill two birds with one stone. I have a feeling that my husband is starting to think that my Rafa adoration (no, I don´t wanna use the word obsession, but those who know me think otherwise.) is costing me a fortune, not to mention that I always work my vacation around Rafa´s events. But hey, just like I said, the guy is so worth every time, every effort, every energy and every cent I spend on him.

Posted by sisu 11/21/2010 at 07:02 PM

Oh CL, you really bring a smile to my face. I agree the infatuation is over the top WRT Rafa. Well, if they’re not talking any less than L&J then it must be the accents that draw me in and mesmerize me to the point of my being unable to tell who’s good or bad. ;))

My tennis day has ended so I say goodnight to all and thanks for the fun.

Hasta manyana/see you tomorrow for Rafa/Tomas and Nole/AndyR along with the doubles.


Posted by Carol 11/21/2010 at 07:11 PM

Chiklet, thank you so much for the ceremony's Moya link. I missed it and now watching it I had tears in my eyes. Hasta luego Lucas!
I don't even want to think when Rafa will retire in the future how much I will cry, lol!!!

Posted by chicklet 11/21/2010 at 07:11 PM

Monte Carlo and Rome? Pfft, amateurs. Who wants to be distracted from the tennis by all that gorgeous scenery?

The true tennis connoisseurs, like myself, will be attending Memphis in February. I know...even the thought has you choking with envy.

Posted by sisu 11/21/2010 at 07:12 PM

CWATC, thanks for that video. Happy for him.

Goldilocks, have a wonderful time; lucky you!

Last goodnight! I think. ;))

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 07:13 PM

Goldilocks I would love to go to MC for the tennis.Not next year though I have to work around my hubbys work cause he works away.Well if you are comgin to Australia for the AO 2012 just let me know.I am always there ok.

Posted by Goldilocks 11/21/2010 at 07:16 PM

Hi sisu,

Thanks. Just so you know, I´ve always enjoyed your posts.

Good Night to you, too.

I´m gonna hit the hay now, too.

Good Night y´all.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 07:16 PM

Chicklet Dont worry I will be doing both in Europe.I havent been back home since 2005.I was at RG to see Rafa win his 1st GS.Thats why next year is soo important to me cause if he win he will tie with Borg at 6 titles each.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 07:21 PM

Carol I havent really gotton over Borg retiring soo young

I dont want to go there with Rafa.Like it took me a long time to find a player that brought out the passion in me and that I could admire as a player.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 07:22 PM

Cicklet LOL! I think any fan that gets to see a live tournament is lucky regardless of where it is.

Posted by chicklet 11/21/2010 at 07:30 PM

"I think any fan that gets to see a live tournament is lucky regardless of where it is."
I know, AM. I'm actually pretty excited about Memphis.
Tennis + bourbon + barbecue = good times

But, man, that view from the court in Monte Carlo is just breathtaking. It's probably for the best that I can't afford it. I love to heckle during matches, and classy establishments tend to frown upon that.

Posted by Carol 11/21/2010 at 07:30 PM

AM, can you imagine you me and others watching the Rafa's ceremony??? lol

Posted by Goldilocks 11/21/2010 at 07:35 PM

OK, before I go, here´s two more posts:

Howdy chicklet!

I do envy you. I´d like to visit Memphis one of these fine days. Memphis is one State I´ve never been to. I´ve been meaning to go so many times, but always ended up visiting friends and relatives in Cali, Florida and Chicago, instead. One of these days, I´ll gonna shout: Memphis here I come.


AM: Thanks (I´ve been saying this to all my posts to you, I know, but how can I not, you´re such a sweet person) for your invitation. I´ll let you know when I´m in the neck of your woods. Maybe you and I can shop together. I love shopping. "Shop until you drop" is my motto.

Gonna go now, this time for real. Good Night again everyone!

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 07:38 PM

Chicket I have always said MC is the most breath taking place to hold a tennis tournament.I hope when I get to go there one day I wont be too artheritc to climb up them steep hills thats all lol!


Carol Perish the thought.I suppose with Borg he just left and didnt have any ceremony.Though at the moment I dont want to think about it lol!

Posted by Goldilocks 11/21/2010 at 07:42 PM

Oops, I mean Tennessee is one State I´ve never been to, yet (See, I´m so tired I don´t even know my States correctly). But yeah, I´d would love to visit Memphis in not so distant future.

I´m gone for good this time.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 07:43 PM

Goldilocks I think you and I are "soul sisters" Melbourne is great for shopping and I go there a lot.Just got back myself and I can really wait for my credit card bill lol!

Posted by Carol 11/21/2010 at 07:55 PM

I've just read that ATP has decided to give more time off to the players, great!!, less injuries
Tomorrow I have day off so I will have time to see the matches. Hope to see Rafa against Roddick with a good serve too, he will need it

Posted by ao 11/21/2010 at 08:08 PM

I agree with Aussiemonkey that if the YEC wants to challenge the grand slams, at least the semis and final matches have to be best-of-five and spread over two weeks. The longer the tournament, the higher the intensity, especially when there are days in between where fans can discuss and predict the final matchup. I think the YEC would also benefit more if it is played at a fixed location. Wouldn't hurt to give the winner 2000 ranking pts or more too.

Just my two cents :)

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 08:08 PM

Carol I read that too.Though it wont begin until 2012.I hope Rafa can find his serve like at the USO.

Posted by Carol 11/21/2010 at 08:19 PM

AM, I've read in a Spanish newspaper Rafa saying that he's feeling good with his shoulder and of course his knees, so not excuses, hope to see him with his best serve

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 08:26 PM

Carol At least he is rested so we shall see.The pace of the court is med pace so that should not give him any trouble really.I know he wants to perform well here and will always try his best.

Posted by Master Ace 11/21/2010 at 08:27 PM

Gauloises is at it once again! Match calls for Monday will be in that thread unless a fresh thread comes.

Posted by Master Ace 11/21/2010 at 08:27 PM

London Order of Play:

Monday
Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi vs Lukas Kubot and Oliver Marach at 7:15 AM
Novak Djokovic(57-16; 2-6) vs Tomas Berdych(44-24; 5-8) at 9 AM
Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic vs Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman at 1:15 PM
Rafael Nadal(67-9; 7-4) vs Andy Roddick(48-15; 4-2) at 3 PM

Tuesday
Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes vs Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner at 7:15 AM
Roger Federer(61-13; 12-6) vs Andy Murray(45-16; 6-3) at 9 AM
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan vs Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski at 1:15 PM
Robin Soderling(56-21; 5-8) vs David Ferrer(60-22; 7-12) at 3 PM

Posted by Carol 11/21/2010 at 08:28 PM

AM, do you know what happened with Team Nadal (the poster)? long time that I don't see her or him. I miss his or her funny links!

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 08:29 PM

Well my stomach is telling me its time to eat lunch

Later everyone.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 08:30 PM

Carol I just saw your posts before closing

Team Nadal did post a few weeks ago

I expect will be back when Rafa plays

Bye

Posted by Carol 11/21/2010 at 08:33 PM

Bye AM, have a great lunch!

Posted by pogiako 11/21/2010 at 08:53 PM

Ausiemag,

You are wrong again, Roger hasn't withdraw from any matches so far. Even if he is injured and losing, he tries to continue to finish it. Unlike Rafael, he has withdrawn some matches already. I am not trying to condone Rafael, I am just stating the fact. We also know Rafael's accomplishments this year. We also know Roger's four great years which you seem not to know.

Posted by JimF 11/21/2010 at 09:37 PM

Great, great tournament.

Pathetic blog by Bodo, but then that's to be expected.

To paraphrase Woody Allen, "Those that can't do write, those that write, write about sports, and those that can't write about sports are Bodo."

Posted by pov 11/21/2010 at 09:56 PM

Thanks for the info on how the 4-majors came to hold such dominant positions in the tennis calendar. As for the YEC, I hope it gains ground - I like the round-robin format.

Posted by Joe 11/21/2010 at 10:31 PM

Pogiaco, and you're wrong too. Roger didn't play any tournament last year in Asia because his back.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 10:45 PM

Pgoiaco

Hi Maybe you misunserstood my post ok

I was making a point at one year at the YEC both Roger and Rafa had to withdraw from injury ok.

Posted by Ausiemarg,Madame President,Rafa London Is Calling! 11/21/2010 at 10:47 PM

By the way I am a big fan of Roger when he beat Pete Sampras at Wimby and are fully aware of his great record.

Posted by Or 11/22/2010 at 12:35 AM

Hi all, can't believe Murray and Roger playing tomorrow noon! Ugh, I'd be at work!

He needs to win it so I'd know I'd see him in the semis in London, come on Rog!

The court seems SO slow to me.

Posted by matt 11/22/2010 at 01:34 AM

what a dull article. at the end of the day we all continue watch tournaments regardless of prestige or format because we love the sport. i for one enjoy the yec. go bryans! go fed!

Posted by daniel 11/22/2010 at 03:18 AM

not sure why rafa won the edberg award this year. i would have thought the players would be annoyed by his gamesmanship (time wasting, grunting like a mentally challenged hippo) on court. but i guess it's enough that he spouts tired sports cliche's off the court.

Posted by jojo 11/22/2010 at 03:46 AM

I think that the Grand Slam tournies, much as I love them, are over-valued when it comes to measuring tennis greatness. The format of five set matches is unnatural to tennis, heavily favoring youth and conditioning.....Imagine if they were seven set matches.....wouldn't that effect who won, and was considered the greatest?
A natural tennis match is 2-3 sets, not 3-5 sets. A match should last 1-3 hours, not 2 1/2 - 5 1/2 hours (or 3 days, as in the case of the Wimledon fiasco this year). The 5 set format (although I wouldn't mind it in the semis and the finals only) causes injury, and measures something other than tennis skill.
The year end round robin is an excellent way to measure tennis skill aomong the best, except it is always played on a fast surface....Ivan Lendl reached the final an amazing 9 consecutive times, winning five.....that fact, and his record 8 consecutive US Open finals, make one realize just how dominant the Terminator was.....by the way, who was the winningest player from 1989 to 1995? Not Sampras, Agassi, Edberg, Becker, Lendl or Kafelnikov.............Michael Chang, the defensive specialist, out-won them all, but the grand slam torunaments make it tough for a "leg player" to win.

Posted by sisu 11/22/2010 at 04:24 AM

Chicklet, thanks for the Moya ceremony. TTC talked over much of the presentation so it was nice to see it in complete form. Had to chuckle when the commentators said - “he was a nice guy, you can see how popular he is.... was a heartthrob...he was pretty popular with the ladies.”

Then, after some discussion of the beauty of Monte Carlo and Rome, you posted this - “The true tennis connoisseurs, like myself, will be attending Memphis in February. I know...even the thought has you choking with envy.”

Choking with laughter!


Goldilocks, thank you.

Posted by vishnu 11/22/2010 at 11:24 AM

No tournament can or will ever match the staus of grand slams.

Posted by foogaw 11/22/2010 at 02:28 PM

It was always a big deal when it was played at Madison Square Garden.

Posted by GrandSlam 11/26/2010 at 07:25 PM

Question: Why is Nadal winning so much?

Answer: Because all the surfaces are slow like CLAY!!!

Posted by Tennis Fan 11/26/2010 at 10:21 PM

I usually love your columns, but this time Mr. Bodo perhaps it's time for you to retire or find something else to write about.. sorry!!

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