When Serena and Venus Williams face court at Arthur Ashe Stadium Thursday night, they’ll add another line to their résumés: This is the first time a women’s doubles doubles match has been played in a first-round US Open in an overnight session in Ashe.
Doubles matches, especially in the first round, are usually restricted to smaller stadiums, with fans often wandering between matches. The primetime in the largest court at the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is a coveted venue – and the tournament wasn’t shy about showing off Serena Williams, who said this US Open would likely be her last before her retirement. of playing tennis.
Placing Williams in the first game of a nightly session on the court with the most seats makes sense for the US Open. It’s an opportunity to sell the most tickets, get higher TV ratings, and fill out the surrounding arenas. For the wider world of tennis, it’s also an opportunity to draw new fans into the game before it retires.
The challenge for the US Tennis Association will be to “gather all this goodwill,” said John Werthem, Tennis Channel analyst and author.
“Turn all these messages about access and dropping conventional wisdom and diversity into an increase in engagement,” Werthem said. It’s been coined as ‘the secondary ticket market is exploding’ and ‘that’s great for TV ratings. “But the real challenge is to turn this short-term rise into real long-term growth.”
The US Open was upfront about the excitement over Serena Williams after winning her second-round singles match on Wednesday night when the tournament said on Twitter, “SO MUCH SERENA CONTENT” in a full post with 31 exclamation points.
LOTS OF SERENA CONTENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
– US Open Tennis Championships (usopen) September 1, 2022
Williams acknowledged the festive feeling of the championship in light of her recent retirement announcement.
“I’ve mostly been blocking everything, but at the same time I’ve been embracing a little bit of it because I also want to enjoy the moment,” she said. “I think these moments are clearly fleeting. For me, it’s really about getting a little bit of a hug but also understanding that I’m here to focus, and do my best this time around.”
Even some players were touched by the hype surrounding Williams. After winning the second round match against Belarus Alexandra Sasnovich on Thursday, Jessica Pegolaa 28-year-old American, said it was inspiring to see Williams at the tournament.
“If we don’t have a game night, we all turn on the TV, we watch it because we want to see what’s going on, what’s going to happen, how you’re playing,” Pegula said. “I feel like she absorbs every point, every second of being there and being Serena. I think it was great to watch.”
Lisa Delby NeurotiD., a professor of sports management at George Washington University, said that while Williams continues her run at the US Open, the tournament has to “take advantage of the situation right now because the stars are lined up, and you couldn’t write a better script if you tried.”
“As with any bridge to marketing, you have to take advantage of every advantage and take advantage of every opportunity that will enhance your sport,” said Niruti. “Serena Williams now is a Cinderella story, every American loves, right? But it’s so much more than just tennis.”
Danielle Allen, 30, who describes herself as a new tennis fan, traveled from Chicago this week for her first US Open. While she didn’t have tickets to see Williams’ play, she was hoping to watch her rehearse.
“Just a glimpse would be great,” Allen said, drinking a lump of honey in the plaza in front of Ash Stadium. “She’s like our Michael Jordan.”
While in men’s tennis there are players like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, women’s tennis will not have a clear star after Williams’ retirement.
There was hope that Ashleigh Barty, who has won three Grand Slam tournaments, could fill that void. But in March, she surprised the tennis world with her Retiring at the age of 25. Iga Swiatek of Poland, currently ranked No. 1 in the world, has won two Grand Slam singles titles, but it is unclear if she will maintain that success. Naomi Osaka, 24, of Japan, has won four Grand Slam tournaments since 2018, but has struggled recently, including in this one, where I lost in the first round.
a Study last month by Morning Consult Of 2,210 Americans, including 1,513 sports fans, they discovered that about a third of Americans were “less interested” in women’s tennis with Williams’ retirement.
But Allen said she would watch tennis more.
“In recent years, I’ve seen a lot of great new talent come in,” she said, citing 18-year-old American Coco Gauff as an example. “It’s good to see, especially the people of color.”
There may be a lull until a dominant force like Williams emerges again, but Wertheim said that over time, one will rise, comparing Williams’ retirement to when Michael Jordan retired from the NBA.
“There will be some modification and marketing challenges, and there will be some years of parity,” Werthem said. “Eventually, another superstar will fill the void. Maybe not a superstar who wins more than 20 majors, but the sport will win. It always is.”
“I don’t think tennis is dead in any way,” she said. “It’s just a new generation.”