Despite a pair of unlikely champions in Kim Clijsters and Juan Martin del Potro, USTA officials have to be wearing their happy pants over the success of the U.S. Open. CBS got a 2.4/5 Nielsen rating for the men’s final, up 41.2% from last year. ESPN also got great ratings, and the economy failed to dent attendance.
The tournament, however, will probably be most remembered for the maniacal ranting of Serena Williams and Roger Federer, the former who inspired the product pictured above as seen on last night’s “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” But was Serena’s profane outburst a bad thing? Depends on how you look at it.
If you’re a tennis traditionalist who eats finger sandwiches and has at least one person in your family named Muffy, you were probably horrified at Williams’ behavior toward the line judge in the semifinal. But if you’re like me, you probably think of such fits of temper as refreshing, cathartic and, dare I say it; uniquely American. In that one moment Serena was Bobby Knight throwing the chair, Bobby Cox being ejected for the third time in a three-game series, Bill Romanowski, well, stuck in traffic, or whatever.
Look, like it or not, Williams’ and Federer’s behavior at the Open has people talking about tennis, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. Just as John McEnroe’s antics created buzz in the 1970s, an occasional fit by our current stars can’t hurt the popularity of the sport. McEnroe was so bad that he brought out the worst in his opponents, even including the usually sedate Bjorn Borg.
I’ll never forget the day I was playing tennis with a good friend, who after double-faulting for the first time, proceeded to attack the padding against the back fence and ripped it to shreds with his racket. I’ve never understood the naked aggression that this sport seems to generate — even more so than golf, in my opinion.
Even Shakespeare understood: In “Henry V,” it was the gift of tennis balls — meant to represent the immature younger days of the English king — that set off the invasion of France by Britain.
Call it Tennis Rage. In modern times, the consequences are less dramatic, but just as fun. Some examples (some NSFW language).
Playing the sport at a championship level takes an enormous amount of concentration, and once you lose your composure, things are pretty much over. But the genius of McEnroe was that he was always losing his temper. In making insanity the norm, he was never truly out of control.
All of the examples above are not of Americans, but when you think of tennis explosions, you invariably think of the USA. That’s us. We question authority, break rackets, kick ass and take names. Would you have us any other way?