US Open: also-ran Borg plus biggest-ever purse
Has there ever been a tennis championship quite like the United States Open, which runs sept. 1-13 in New York City?Certainly no other major tournament is situated closer to an airport runway, seats more people at center court (19,500) , or offers more prize money ($1 million). Nor has any tournament frustrated Bjorn Borg so consistently.Skip to next paragraph
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The Swede aspires to become the greatest player of all time, yet in nine years he's never won the Open and finds little consolation in three second-place finishes. Even before his five-year Wimbledon reign ended in July, he said a US Open victory was the crown he wanted most.
In Borg's case, possession of the title is really more important than the payoff. Other top players would say the same. But this hasn't stopped the US Tennis Association from upping this year's purse by $315,000, thus making the world's richest tournament considerably richer in its centennial year.
Money is the international language of tennis these days, and the USTA obviously speaks it better than anyone else. Oodles of dollars may make for tension-packed, high-stakes tennis, but they can't buy love.
For any number of reasons, the Open hardly rates as a favorite stop among the palyers. Some miss the redcarpet tretment offered elsewhere. Others dislike New York. Still others, especially South American and European clay-courters, pass up the lone major hardcourt tournament altogether.
At one point, the women's player union, disgruntled by perceived slights, threatened to boycott this year's championship. The Women's Tennis Association considered holding an alternative $500,000 event at the New Jersey Meadowlands. Many top players favored the idea, but the USTA's willingness to increase the women's prize money, enlarge the draw from 96 to 128 players, and feed more money into the grass-roots development of the women's game influenced the WTA to cancel its boycott plans.
Another thing the women angled for and will get is more television coverage. CBS has agreed to air their semifinal matches on Sept. 11, preventing the men's matches from eclising the women's during the last days.
Ironically, what most people probably remember about recent Opens are the teenage girls, who've turned the Open into a debutante ball.
Defending champion Chris Evert Lloyd launched the trend a decade ago when she reached the semifinals as a precocious 16-year-old. Then came Tracy austin (the '79 winner), Pam Shriver, Andrea Jaeger, and Hana Mandlikova. This year's media darling may be Floridian Kathy Rinaldi, who, at 14, became the youngest woman professional in history earlier this summer.
Basically, if a player's going to make a big splash, the time to do it is at the Open. To go on a rampage at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Park, Queens, is worth loads in media exposure, and perhaps in endorsement income. The Open epitomizes tennis gone public, turned into the lap of the masses. In a sense, the setting has only recently caught up with the name, for the face of tennis began changing in 1968, when pros were first permitted to play in the US national championship, helping to launch the big-money, "Open" era.