Boys Helping Girls
MONTREAL--To Tennis Canada, it's just pragmatism and sensible business.
The proud women's tennis tour, particularly in a year in which the achievements of pioneers like Billie Jean King have been recognized, might see it differently.
As a slap in the face. As a suggestion the women's tour needs male content to improve business.
In a plan that's been percolating for some time and has been keep quiet for fear of an adverse reaction, Tennis Canada announced this morning that two of the first round losers at the men's Rogers Cup this week -- Bernard Tomic and Felipe Lopez -- will fly to Toronto and play an exhibition match tomorrow night as a means of giving customers a little more bang for their tennis buck.
All the first round losers were offered $20,000 and expenses to volunteer for the match, and those chosen will be announced today by Tennis Canada boss Michael Downey. The concept is in its early stages, but it may be the beginning of a "men's invitational" that will be part of the Rogers Cup women's event every year as a way to attract more customers and corporate business.
As well, James Blake will face Pete Sampras on Friday night in an exhibition. Retired American star Andy Roddick was to play but isn’t available because of back injury.Jim Courier and John McEnroe are also scheduled to participate in Toronto exhibition matches.
The matches involving the men are expected to take place in prime time. No female players or ex-players are involved in Montreal events.
Given that 15 years ago the women's tour was littered with recognizable stars and in some ways more appealing than the men's game, it's a startling admission that the women are now less marketable, a combination of the loss of many stars to retirement and the absence of a new generation of talented players with a resume of major victories.
Already, the women's Rogers Cup has resorted to a hit-and-giggle doubles exhibition on Monday night involving the Williams sisters, Canadian up-and-comer Eugenie Bouchard and former great Monica Seles. The men's event has had no similar exhibitions.
This is the third year in which the Rogers Cup has staged a "virtual" combined tournament, with the women and men playing simultaneously in Toronto and Montreal after years of holding the events in separate weeks.
Using men to help the women's event in Toronto is also part of a new trend in pro tennis that seems to recognize the low ebb at which the women's game is right now. Last week at the combined event in Washington, organizer Donald Dell made no bones about the fact the men received preferential court treatment and greater exposure than the women because they are a better sell right now. At this year's Citi Open, 23 men's matches were played in the men's stadium compared to just six women's matches.