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August 31, 2001

by Bill Hogan



The U.S. Open tennis championships began this past Monday. An easy topic for a weekly column, right? Well, maybe for a mainstream sportswriter following the saga of Martina Hingis and the Williams sisters. But, as you know by now, my writings often include a hint of historical reference.

So, as I often do while researching a topic, I headed down to the local bookstore (actually, it's a national book superstore) to read up on the history of the U.S. Open.


There were rows of sports related books. Everything from Archery to Yachting. Hundreds of references on football, baseball, basketball and golf. Dozens of titles on boxing, weightlifting and fencing. And, under the heading of "Racket Sports", just past badminton (I thought it was 'badmitten', didn't you?) and squash, there sat eleven books on tennis.

Eleven - and none dedicated to the storied history of the U.S. Open.

Consider this:

There are many notable men's champions from Bill Tilden to Arthur Ashe to Jimmy Connors.

There are many interesting women's champions from Billie Jean King to Chris Evert to Chris Evert-Lloyd.

Why were there only eleven books on tennis? (This wasn't some mom and pop bookstore this was the Price Club of bookstores.)

Isn't the history of professional tennis and, more specifically, our national tennis championship a worthy topic? Shouldn't this sport, viewed and played by millions of Americans, garner more shelf space than lawn bowling? Is tennis' contribution to the literary world destined to rest in the hands of a 'How-To' series and a Bud Collins anthology?

(I was, however, extremely grateful not to run across any book titled "Chicken Soup for the Tennis Fan's Soul".)

Roll back the clocks.

Happy anniversary to all you 'middle-age' sportsfans that remember what thirty-nine year old Jimmy Connors did in Flushing ten years ago.

Thirty-nine - that's two hundred seventy three in dog years and about three hundred in professional tennis years.

In 1991, the 'over-the-hill' Connors, was a wild card entry and ranked 174th in the world. He was eight years removed from his fifth and final U.S. Open championship and it had been thirteen years since he was the number one player on tour.

After losing the first two sets in a first round match against Patrick McEnroe, it figured to be an early exit for the aging star. But, fueled by powerfully motivating fan support, he managed to stave off defeat - winning a four hour thirty-five minute marathon in five sets.

The match ended at 1:30 a.m. The electrifying feeling lasted well into the next day. And, to top it all off, Connors would repeat his heroics a few days later, in the round of 16 against Aaron Krickstein. Again, the seventies star came back after being a set away from elimination. Again, he out-lasted a younger opponent with his vintage fist-pumping flair. Again, the fans seemed to be his energy, his heart and his legs.

Connors battled his way to the semi-finals of the 1991 U.S. Open at the age of thirty-nine before losing to twenty-one year old Jim Courier.

To put it in perspective, Pete Sampras, at thirty, is being described at this year's Open as an 'aging underdog'.

To cement it in perspective, I (at forty) get winded taking out the garbage.

Somebody should write a book about those two storied weeks back in '91. They can call it "Metamucil For The Middle-Aged Sports Fan's Soul".

Gratuitous Anna K. remarks.

I know, but I only feel compelled to write two tennis columns a year. So, here's my obligatory two-cents:

Despite missing her third straight Grand Slam event this year. Despite never having won a women's singles title of any kind. And despite receiving more press coverage about her romances than her backhand, Anna Kournikova will make between ten and fifteen million dollars this year.

She has endorsement contracts that range from sportswear to internet search engines to bras.

Stage mother's of the world - listen up. Forget about the glamorous life of the high fashion model. Turn a blind eye to the glaring lights of Hollywood. If you want your daughter to become a wealthy celebrity, stick a tennis racket in her hand and send her out on tour. Because you don't have to be a good tennis player to make a lot of money, you just have to be an attractive tennis player.

Advertising executives of the world - listen up. You guys are missing the boat. If you really want to utilize Anna K.'s appeal to its fullest potential, then she should be endorsing the kind of consumer products more closely associated with the testosterone laden, hormonal audience you beckon: Beer and condoms.


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