Roger Federer, the current number one ranked tennis player in the world, played Pete Sampras a former number one, in three exhibition matches around the world.
Federer has been number one for a record 200 weeks straight, starting February 2, 2004. Sampras was number one for 102 weeks from April 14, 1996 to March 29, 1998. Federer has won 12 grand slam events. Sampras has won 14-a record, for now. Sampras thinks Federer will soon own the grand slam record.
"The major record, he's got so much time. He's 26 and he's got the next four years to be in the pinnacle of his career so I see him breaking that, if not next year, pretty soon," Sampras said.
The exhibition matches took place in three different Asian cities. According to Federer's website:
The best-of-three set matches will be played on indoor carpet surfaces on November 20 (Tue) in a city to be announced at a later date, November 22 (Thu) in Kuala Lumpur and on November 24 (Sat) in Macao. The
Malaysian match billed as the "Merdeka International Tennis Challenge" will be a tourism driven initiative held as part of the celebrations of Merdeka - the 50th anniversary of the Malaysia. The "Venetian Macao Tennis Showdown" will be title sponsored by the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel and take place at the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel's stunning new 15,000 seat arena.
Tennis has a history of interesting exhibition matches.
In 1973 Billy Jean King played Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes. Says Wikipedia, "In front of 30,492 spectators and a worldwide television audience estimated at 50 million people in 37 countries, King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3." The match was given heavy coverage and was seen as an important moment in womens rights.
Its nearly impossible to envision a circumstance close to this happening in tennis right now. The closet tennis can get to the headlines are the bizzare gambling scandals within the sport.
The sport's decay has been unfolding for a while now.
In 1994, Sports Illustrated ran a cover story asking, "Is Tennis Dying?" At the time I was a fourteen year old die hard player. I was a member at an indoor tennis club where I took lessons. I remember seeing a local tennis flier that responded with a parody of the cover that answered the questions with an emphatic, "NO!" However, Sports Illustrated was right. Tennis was dying. And it is now dead as evidenced by the public indifference to the exhibition between Sampras and Federer.
Its peculiar that sports writers and fans seem to shrug when two players widely believed to amongst the greatest in their field playing each other in a rather competitive event. Sure, it was an exhibition, but so was the battle of the sexes.
Clearly there isn't a clamoring for historic exhibition matches in 2007 like there was in 1973.
The the stadium cited above claims 15,000 seats. If they managed to sell out the venue they'd just barely beat the average opening round attendance for the U.S. Open.
If there is a dearth in American interest and a dearth in Asian interest, then why bother putting on this match at all?
Marketing. The Las Vegas resort Sands owns the Venetian Macao where the match is being held.
According to their press release they've put on other big sporting events including a game between the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers and a Manchester United football game.
Sands hoped this match would raise its international profile to make it, as William P. Weidner, president and chief operating officer says, "the pre-eminent destination for sports and entertainment events, to compliment our incredible combination of shopping, dining, leisure and recreation." They put on this event with assistance from IMG, a leading sports agency.
It is unlikely that two major companies would back a losing venture. I haven't been able to track down the numbers, but I'd be interested in learning how much the players were paid for these matches. And I'd like to know how the resort would measure the success or failure of this event.
Though tennis is dead as a spectator sport, perhaps it is thriving as a recreation sport. And if this is so, perhaps people will be more interested in traveling to Hong Kong to play tennis.
That seems like a stretch to me though.