Those who have sat along the sidelines at the U.S. Open or other live tennis matches know the drill: your neck gets a workout craning to follow the back-and-forth of the ball.
Happily, CBS and CBS Sports Network, which has stepped into the Open action for the first time, put tennis fans’ fingers to work on their remote controls over Labor Day weekend, as the corporate cousins served up concurrent coverage from Flushing Meadows.
Taking a swing at the slogan once pitched by the ballclub across Roosevelt Avenue and the boardwalk from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the doubles partners televised “Tennis the way it oughta be.”
On Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Roger Federer was putting a hurting on No. 25 Fernando Verdasco, while Andy Murray, who took out the Grand Slam king on his favorite lawn at the All-England Club to win Olympic gold just three weeks after losing to the Swiss at the Wimbledon final, was in a surprising dogfight with No. 30 Feliciano Lopez on Louis Armstrong.
CBS shifted Federer-Verdasco to CBS Sports Network, while the more compelling contest — in which the Scot finally prevailed by taking three tie-breaks in the taut four-set match — migrated to the broadcaster. It was a play that scored from both sides of the court during their shared coverage window. The more interesting match was made available to the widest audience, while those who favor Fed were able to follow the world No. 1 — or toggle between the two matches.
The doubles team was even more effective on Sunday. CBS’s Bill Macatee, John McEnroe and Mary Carillo had the call from Ashe, where defending champion and No. 2 Novak Djokovic was beating down Julien Benneteau. At the same time, Ian Eagle and Jim Courier were keeping tabs on No. 4 David Ferrer and 2001 U.S. Open champ Lleyton Hewitt in a fiery first set on CBS Sports Network. Once again, there was an on-air changeover: Black Rock presented the tie-break that wound up in the Spaniard’s court, after his running forehand, following an exchange at the net, ultimately left the Aussie frozen at mid-court on the penultimate point in the 11-9 affair. Johnny Mac joined Eagle and Courier for Ferrer-Hewitt early in their second set.
That match was later returned to CBS Sports Network in favor of the main act on Ashe on Sunday: Andy Roddick trying to extend his career into the round of 16 versus Fabio Fognini. Playing his role as Carillo described as the entertaining foil, the Italian talked, talked, talked and talked some more to his camp, the crowd, himself and his racquets. But his backhand and quickness also spoke volumes and almost rewrote the script, as Mac pointed out, when he grabbed the third set. The final chapter on Fognini came in the fourth, with Roddick breaking in the seventh game.
Meanwhile, this fan found himself repeatedly hitting the last channel button (with a few check-ins on the limping Yankees on the YES Network for good measure) to return to the Argentine encounter on the Grandstand, where Juan Martin Del Potro outlasted Leonardo Mayer in three. Just as Fognini was converting a third-set point in the third versus Roddick, DelPo and his countryman were midway through what would wind up being the decisive 11-9 tie-break.
And so the volleying continued. CBS stuck with Roddick’s post-match interview outside Ashe, while CBS Sports Network, which also provided some peeks at Stan Wawrinka’s straight-set triumph over Alexandr Dolgopolov, was in the game with American Steve Johnson and Frenchman Richard Gasquet on the Grandstand. The conclusion of Gasquet’s 7-6 first-set win aired on CBS, while CBS Sports Network was on the Armstrong watch with defending Open champ Sam Stosur battling against 18-year-old Brit Laura Hobson, who earlier in the tourney ended the singles career of three-time Open champion Kim Clijsters and followed suit by sending 2011 French Open champ Li Na back east. As CBS and CBS Sports Network closed their telecast windows at 6 p.m., they passed Stosur-Robson and Johnson-Gasquet to Tennis Channel for bonus coverage, before the independent network initiated its exclusive primetime coverage at 7 p.m.
More of the same is on tap for Labor Day and presumably for Opens going forward. CBS, which is televising its 45th consecutive Open, has a long-term agreement with the United States Tennis Association for the American Grand Slam tourney.
In looking to provide greater coverage of the event , CBS Sports Network is also running a pre-match show, Today at the U.S. Open, at 10 a.m. over Labor Day weekend . It also offered the first-ever TV coverage of the tournament qualifiers from Aug. 21-24. The parties are expected to evaluate the doubles’ presentations after the Open. But there isn’t any reason to think why the USTA and CBS would double-fault a play that maximizes exposure for the tournament and enhances the value of the 47-million-subscriber cable network.
U.S. Open Tennis Championships coverage the way it oughta be.