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U.S. Open Takes Unseemly Backseat to Football

For the fifth consecutive year, the 2012 U.S. Open men's final was contested on a Monday due to the rain that has now become the annual rite of the tennis fortnight in Gotham. This was a source of tremendous outrage from the top players - especially the men - who complained again about the always controversial scheduling of the U.S. Open, where the men are required to play the semifinals and finals on successive days (the women also play those rounds on consecutive days, albeit in a far less grueling fashion being that women only play two-of-three set matches).

Well now, finally, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has listened to the grievances of the top pros and has decided to instill a small degree of sanity into its scheduling; the organization that runs the U.S. Open has, at long last, scheduled a day of rest between the semifinals and finals for both the men and women for the tournament in 2013.

Yet, while this may appear to be a positive development, the manner in which these changes are to be implemented is actually both an affront to tradition and an insult to the ever-loyal fans of the sport in this country.

For 2013, the women's semifinals will be contested on Friday and the men's semis on Saturday - as it always has been. But now the women's final will be played on Sunday at 7 p.m., with the men's final to be played on Monday at 5 p.m.

Yes, you read that right. The men's final will be shown when hardly anyone can watch the entire match. In fact, if one lives in California, one of the few places where recreational tennis has always thrived, it'll be nearly impossible for a working person to glimpse any of the match.

Yet the women get the choicer time slot of a Sunday final? With all due respect, the women's game has existed in a vacuum for the most part these last 10 years while the men have thrived. It's ridiculous that the men should be relegated to the second-tier slot of a Monday final.

It's utterly nonsensical and an affront to any knowledgeable tennis fan's sensibilities. Even the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), which had wanted the U.S. Open to grant a day of rest between the semis and finals isn't pleased. "The ATP and its players have made it clear to the U.S. Open that we do not support a Monday final,'' the governing body for men's tennis said in a statement. "We strongly believe the U.S. Open should keep a similar schedule to the other Grand Slams, with the men's semifinals completed by Friday and the final on Sunday."

Why even have a Monday final at all? It'd be very easy to have a day off between the semis and finals for both the men and women if the U.S. Open were to get rid of its abominable tradition of spreading the first round over an agonizing three days.

The USTA should look to Wimbledon and watch how the greatest tournament in the sport is scheduled. Even with rain - albeit there is now a roof over Centre Court - and no night matches and an absence of play on the middle Sunday, Wimbledon seems to always finish on time. 

But let's say the U.S. Open Monday men's final is here to stay. Why would the USTA continue to validate tennis's inferiority complex here in the United States by refusing to have the sport go against Monday Night Football?

What does CBS have to lose? After all, networks have long given in to the omnipotence of the NFL. So why not have the men's final start at, say, 7 p.m. If ratings are not being lost why risk alienating half the nation's tennis fans by starting the match at 5? How does this in any way make up for the miserable Monday finals that fans have endured these last five years?

What's wrong with having four consecutive prime time slots? The women's semis on Friday night, the men's semis starting early evening on Saturday and then the finals on Sunday and Monday, respectively? This would signal a bold move to enlarge the viewing audience.

But as the plan is drawn up now, it's a concession, an admission on the part of the USTA that tennis will never have the cachet of football - or even golf.

The USTA is missing out on a huge opportunity to poach from a massive audience. What if NFL fans are forced to endure a blowout and, as their restlessness takes over, they turn the channel and happen upon yet another Grand Slam epic that has become the norm for the men the last few years? Who's to say that unexpected converts wouldn't emerge? And converts are the most vociferous believers of any religion.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports on Sundays and Tuesdays. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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