Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Lack of American Champ Still Compromising Tennis Audience

Rafael Nadal celebrates with his trophy after winning the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, on June 11, 2012 in Paris.
Patrick Kovarik | AFP | Getty Images

If Rafael Nadal wasn’t from Spain and he was instead Rafael Smith from Georgia, tennis would take over the sports world this morning, even coming off one of the best sports weekends of the year.

But it tennis won’t get the same buzz as the Pacquiao fight or LeBron and the Heat getting past the Celtics.

You see, fans who watch individual sports crave dynasties. They want the same guys to win over and over again.

But in tennis, no matter how exciting Nadal is, how effortless Federer looks or how amazing Djokovic’s rise to the top has been, the popularity of the sport in the US has been undeniably compromised by the lack of the American game.

Nadal’s win over Djokovic in the French Open this morning is Nadal’s seventh French Open title. It’s also the 31st time out of the last 34 grand slam titles that have been won by Nadal, Djokovic or Federer.

Those in the tennis business would rather have the dominance that exists now over complete parity. After all, there’s great popularity in the game worldwide. But one has to wonder what the sport would be if either Nadal, Djokovic or Federer were American, where the sport would be right now.

For the record, I don’t care about the nationality of any tennis player. I love greatness and I do love the sport. But that’s not how our American public thinks.

With individual sports, people, as a whole, adopt the Olympic mentality. Greatness is so much greater if one of your fellow countrymen is doing it. And it’s not just about tennis.

Rory McIlroy winning majors is a good thing. But if Tiger Woods wins the same tournament with the exact same shots, there’s just so much more interest and you can’t discount the American factor.

American Tennis fans get upset when this topic gets brought up, especially on a day like today, when there’s supposed to be a celebration taking place. But, the truth is, this is exactly the time to bring something like this up. It’s when the origin of a player’s birthplace is clearly a factor in viewership.

Not only have Nadal, Djokovic and Federer won 91 percent of the last 34 Grand Slam titles, but an American hasn’t won single Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon or US Open since Andy Roddick won the US in the fall of 2003.

It was the last of 15 straight years that an American has won at least won Grand Slam title, thanks to the presence of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier.

As far as the quality of the game goes, I don’t think any sport has seen its stars improve more than tennis has. The shots that guys like Djokovic, Nadal and Federer hit with such precision weren’t made with such frequency twenty years ago.

I love it.

It’s a shame to think how many more people would be exposed to the game if the men hitting these balls were American.

Questions?  Comments?