England, home to Wimbledon with its great tennis tradition, whose midsummer slam is the highlight of the tennis season. But shamefully, a national preoccupation with tennis for two weeks of the year disappears before the next grand-slam event takes place in New York in early September.
Why? One obvious example is the national coverage. Wimbledon sucks up a great deal of the BBC’s national sports budget. The coverage is impressive, pushing football if not into the background at least into sharing the attention of viewers.
But after Wimbledon, coverage is restricted to radio broadcasts (remember them, folks?) And then, there’s the timing of matches. Even hardened tennis fans such as myself find the timing inconvenient. The early matches are good evening viewing, but the evening sessions, NY time often with the top billing matches, start in the middle of our night. They end at silly-o-clock even for Americans, but that’s a badge of pride for New Yorkers who like to maintain the myth that the Big Apple never sleeps.
All of this wouldn’t matter, if it wasn’t for a pattern of results from the Brits. For decades, we have been lucky to have had our interest maintained by Andy Murray’s runs of success into the semifinals and finals, sometimes winning the tournament, even in the era of Rafa Nadal, Federer and Djokovic.
Then, last year, when Andy was dragging his newly metal-plated knee around we had the near miracle of our new wonder-kid Emma Raducanu winning through the qualifying rounds, without many people noticing. Then she won her first rounds against opponents all seeded above her. Some glimmer of interest at home as she moved into week two, and reached the final. By then, even the BBC had recovered its appetite for transmitting tennis matches. Except of course they couldn’t.
When she won the tournament without losing a set, her place for super sponsorship deals was secure. The BBC did the best it could by making SPOTY (Sports Personality of the Year) the event where it spent the last bit of its sports budget. Emma duly obliged, ahead of World Boxing Champion Tyson Fury.
So, this year we had some skin in the game at the US Open, with Emma ready to repeat her heroics. Except for one minor thing, her season had been beset with injuries. She was paired in the first round against the experienced if unseeded Alize Cornet. And duly lost.
British interest subsided but then came to life briefly as four, yes four of the British men win though to the second week. That was something. British No 1 Cameron Norrie fulfilled his rise in the seedings. Andy Murrey, his metal plated knee in good order followed, with Dan Evans, and the exciting young Matt Draper joining him.
Unfortunately, all four lost on the first day of the second week. Normal service (no tennis pun intended) was resumed, with little attention paid in the UK. Football had regained its supremacy. Even the BBC still has access to some of the Cup matches.
The sad news is that that the BBC has inadequate funds to compete with the global channels. The most successful late entrant is Amazon Prime. Tennis snatched away from terrestrial viewers thanks to millions of book buyers.
Creative leadership is called for. But every Sunday morning I see signs of hope in the dozens of pre-teens being inducted into the game, as I take part in a seniors event on an adjacent court. Other juniors from the same club have gone on to reach international levels in the game.
This morning a film was being made with scenes being shot on the courts and the club house. Watch out for the publicity. Tennis remains a minority sport, but all is not lost.