USA Network deserved better.
After all the late-night dramatics — think John McEnroe-Michael Chang, Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors and Todd Martin playing into the wee hours — there should have been one more round of rowdiness, one more after-midnight rush for the crowd.
Come to think of it, Wednesday’s bill — featuring Serena taking the measure of big sis in a pair of tiebreakers as Venus couldn’t align with the hard court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Mardy Fish battling newly crowned No. 1 Rafa Nadal until past 2 a.m. — should have marked USA’s primetime finale from Flushing Meadows.
Yes, USA should have gone out with a five-setter that ended well past midnight.
Instead, in its final “Primetime at the Open” Thursday USA served up a quarterfinal between No. 3, the petulant Novak Djokovic and. No. 8 Andy Roddick, the last American man at the Grand Slam event.
But like much of his career, Roddick disappointed. Losing four of his first eight service games, it appeared that Roddick would barely last three sets. Then the 2003 Open champion held 11 consecutive times, before double faulting twice when serving to tie matters in the fourth set. After Djokovic, last year’s finalist, held for 6-5, Roddick did manage to send things to tiebreaker, where he came up short.
Just like that, USA, which will still present women’s double championship on Sunday (and maybe men’s semifinals action if Hannah, as expected drenches the New York DMA Saturday), was finished at the Open in primetime, shortly after 11 p.m. (Remarkably, Djokovic’s boorish post match-on-court interview with USA’s Michael Barkann about Roddick’s remarks about the Serbian’s injuries, real or imagined, left McEnroe, someone familiar with boorish behavior in his days as a player, essentially speechless.)
At least commentators Ted Robinson, Al Trautwig and McEnroe gave USA founder Kay Koplovitz props for having the vision to bring the Open to the network.And longtime producer Gordon Beck was also lauded.
USA always did right by the Open, routinely extending its coverage beyond its 90 scheduled hours. Case in point came Tuesday, when round of 16 matches for Djokovic and four-time defending champion Roger Federer made the day session turn into night. Starting at 11 a.m. USA was on the air for 13 consecutive hours, Like Robinson said, USA ran 18 hours over during its swan song with the tourney.
Now the cable mantle has been passed to ESPN and Tennis Channel, starting with the 2009 fortnight. On paper, it should be an even better play than USA—they’re scheduled to team on at least 160 hours.
Except perhaps in large swaths of metro New York.
Cablevision, the area’s predominant distributor with more than 3 million subs, doesn’t have a deal with Tennis, even though its Bethpage headquarters is only a couple of well-placed lobs from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the site of the Open, and Douglaston, where Johnny Mac, the face and voice of the tourney, grew up.
With Tennis’ current regime headed by Ken Solomon opposed to digital tier placement and Cablevision’s ruling family, the Dolans, known to have taken their share of tough stands when it comes to sports programming – just ask the execs at YES – it could be a very tough match. Sans contract, Tennis will not be able to open up additional distribution for the Open via free previews, a tactic it has deployed with affiliates for its coverage of the French and the Australian..
Maybe local pressure, not to mention Tennis — which celebrated its fifth anniversary in May – also holding the rights to the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the sports other two Grand Slams, will pave the way to a deal.
Or maybe it’s the 2000 HD hours Tennis offers annually, an important consideration for Cablevision, and its gambit to offer the enhanced platform for free, in its Big Apple battle with DirecTV, Dish and FiOS. All of those distributors the high-def version of the service.
But if the parties don’t decide to play doubles, there’ll be at least one Cablevision subscriber in Westchester looking back even more fondly on USA’s 25 years at the Open come next August.