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Good Tickets To The Open Still Available

Here’s the good news about the upcoming US Open Tennis Tournament, which, for the record, is one of the greatest sporting events on the planet, traffic and parking withstanding. And yes, I know I should take the train. The good news is, fans are welcomed back onto the grounds, and barring inclement weather, it’s all outdoors. So if you missed the grandeur of live tennis in New York City, the wait is over. The other good news is that at least right now, there seems to be a lot of decent tickets available, especially on the secondary market. Which means that if you want to watch hours of tennis and you can play hooky, you can do it for less than what you’d normally spend on food alone at a Giants game.

Of course, and here’s the bad news, there’s likely a reason for that, beyond the general aversion some people have in sharing space with tens of thousands of strangers. It’s that several of the game’s biggest stars are sitting out this year’s event, some now for the second year in a row. On the men’s side, both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal our out, the former for another surgery that time would suggest could mark the career end of one of the game’s most accomplished and adored athletes. Also out are last year’s winner Dominic Thiem and 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka, all of which means it’s even more likely that Novak Djokovic will win his 21st major title to become the most decorated player in history and win a calendar Grand Slam in the process. On the women’s side, Serena Williams has withdrawn and, at 39, has not played a match on Tour since the first round at Wimbledon. This leaves her still with 23 major victories, one short of Margaret Court’s 24. It seems increasingly unlikely she’ll catch much less pass this mark, even as pretty much everyone has long considered Serena the greatest women’s player that ever was.

This is obviously bad news for an event and sport that often struggles to find a large audience, especially in the US. As much as pretty much all sports have struggled through Covid, this isn’t a new thing for tennis. The confluence of American demographics, high costs and barriers to entry, taste preferences, and an ongoing dearth of American stars has made this sport less and less relevant to a fickle US audience. And in some regards, the Williams family – especially Serena – and perhaps a waning interest in the Federer/Nadal rivalry – has kept the wolves at bay. I’d argue that Naomi Osaka not playing tennis got more coverage in this country than anyone actually playing tennis. So now that none of the sport’s aging royalty will participate in this country’s only signature event, it’s hard to imagine a trendline that looks as much as flat.

This, of course, is the nature of sports and popularity, even relevance. Particularly those that compete on an international stage, as opposed to national professional leagues, remaining in the good graces of the public’s finances is a confluence of smart planning and good luck. Let’s be honest, if not for the generational gift that was the Williams sisters, tennis would hardly be spoken in the US outside the rarified air of lawn clubs and private lessons. And as much as they were to spawn a new generation of top American stars, we’ve yet to see the boon of home grown talent – with all due respect to Coco Gauff and Sofia Kenin, who are making a case. There are no American men in the top 20, just to be clear. In other words, we’ve come a long way from Sampras/Agassi, much less McEnroe/Connors.

So what’s the answer? I’m sure a lot of people smarter and more informed than I have tried to expand the sport’s base and success in this country. For the record, I’ve done my part by playing weekly with my 11-year-old, who’s still more partial to soccer. But fighting the current of an American sports landscape that’s engrossed with high tempo excitement and accessibility, I can’t imagine a way tennis thrives in the US in the TikTok era, especially as we likely say goodbye to perhaps its three best ambassadors – at least for the upcoming American fortnight.

I suppose it’s not all bad. At the very least, if you’re interested in going to the Open next week, tickets should be easy to come by.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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