Monday, February 25, 2013

Tennis Pros Shortchanged Memphis Fans

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM

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There is no denying it. Memphis tennis fans were shortchanged last week by the ATP pros who bailed out with questionable injuries, and the tournament at the Racquet Club is in trouble due to high costs and fading interest.

John Isner lost his first match in straight sets and scratched from the doubles, pleading an injury. But he's in the draw today for the start of another ATP tournament in Delray Beach, Florida. In fact, he is top seed, and was interviewed yesterday by the local newspaper.

Tommy Haas forfeited his singles match, pleading injury. Haas is also in the draw in Delray Beach, where he is second seed.

Xavier Malisse and Marinko Matosevic retired (the formal tennis word for "quit") in the middle of their Memphis matches, but they are also still in the draw at Delray Beach. Nothing like a little Florida sunshine.

Mardy Fish and Fernando Verdasco were billed as main attractions in Memphis but never played a match. At least they have the decency to not be playing somewhere else this week. Verdasco was listed last week as playing in Acapulco this week but is not in the draw this morning.

Isner's not playing in doubles was a minor sin. He and his partner were replaced in the draw. So from a fan's perspective, no harm no foul. The damage is to his credibility, especially in light of his quick exit in singles. Haas, a three-time former Memphis champion, deserved better than the 11 p.m. starting time he faced before pulling out. That was an unfortunate result of earlier matches on the stadium court running long and starting late. But the show must go on, even if it had been midnight. That's the definition of professional. Malisse and Matosevic didn't sell any tickets on their name recognition, but the fans who bought tickets for those sessions did not get their money's worth. Of the two injuries, Matosevic's was the more convincing because it came after the first set of his semifinal match and he stood to earn $291,800 if he had won the tournament (which, by the way, was won by Kei Nishikori, who beat Feliciano Lopez in the finals).

Attendance was down this year. Blaming the weather, as some reporters did, is ridiculous. It rained a couple of nights last week, but this is an indoor event. The weather was perfect Saturday and Sunday.

The ATP's attempt to market this tournament as a "500 level" event rather than "250 level" event is not worth the trouble of explaining what that means. A tournament a week earlier in San Jose (which is apparently moving to Memphis next year) is a 250 event, as is Delray Beach. The fields are essentially the same at all three tournaments.

What makes Memphis stand out is the prize money — $1,212,750 versus $455,775 in Delray Beach, where first prize is $75,000. What in the world is Memphis paying so much for? If the tournament comes back, it won't offer that kind of money. And, apparently, that won't make much difference. The Big Four — Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray — aren't coming. And the pros behind them seem to be motivated by appearance money, convenience, scheduling, television exposure, and their own willingness to play through minor "injuries" as they are by prize money and rankings.

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