In Jon Wertheim’s latest mailbag, a reader brings up an excellent suggestion for tournaments:
“Should tournaments take a leaf out of the UFC’s book and award bonus money for best match of the tourny/day, or a combativity award like they have at the Tour de France?
I like to watch cycling but I’d never thought of the ideas tennis could borrow from cycling:
1. “Combativity Award” & “Best Young Tennis Player”
At the Tour de France, each day a “combativity award” is given to the rider who showed an aggressive streak — that rider wears a red pin number on the next day’s stage. At the race’s end, a “Super Combativity Award” and a prize of 20,000 euros is given.
A white jersey for “best young rider” is given to the best-performing cyclist under the age of 25. The red polka-dot jersey is awarded to “King of the Mountain.” The green jersey is awarded to the “best sprinter,” who has the most number of points in the flat sprint stages. The famous yellow jersey is awarded to the winner of the overall race. Since these jerseys can change hands after each stage, that adds to the excitement of watching the Tour de France, which spans 21 days.
Though a cyclist isn’t awarded a jersey for receiving the “combativity award,” it carries a special cachet. At the 2011 TdF, a tour car bumped into cyclist Juan Antonio Flecha, causing Johnny Hoogerland to fly into the air and land on a barb-wire fence. He had deep gashes on his backside, yet managed to get back on his bike and earn the “King of the Mountain” jersey en route to finishing the stage. One of the most touching moments at last year’s TdF was watching Hoogerland cry after also being awarded the day’s “combativity prize.” He won over many new fans with his grit, and dedication to suffering.
If Grand Slams had a “combativity prize” and a “best young player” award, that’d be a great way to drum up fans’ interest in talented but unknown players. Although I closely follow tennis, I only rarely watch Challenger or junior tournaments. It’s only until they’re playing a favorite player of mine, or they’ve had a breakthrough, that I learn who they are. If a tennis tourny handed out awards after each round — R1, R2, R3, R4 — that would certainly heighten interest in the early rounds of a tournament. The player who received the “combativity award” after R1 could wear a red armband provided by the tournament for his/her R2 match, or a special red vibration dampener for his/her racquet. Red towels, anyone? A “best young player” award would drum up interest for the up-and-comers, who are often unknown as they play the Challenger tour.
Can I go ahead and say that the winner of the likely match between Hewitt and Roddick should win the non-existent “combativity prize” for R2?
2. The “Obscure Pro”:
One favorite fan tradition in cycling takes place at the Tour Down Under, in Australia. Aussie fans adopt an “obscure pro,” and cheer for him as they would a top-performing star, by painting his name on the road and mobbing him as if he were a celebrity star. The criteria for “obscure pro” is more or less: a non-English speaking cyclist who has no chance of winning a major race that year. For the most part they pick young riders, so the “obscure pro” label isn’t patronizing. It’s rather endearing.
The “obscure pro” tradition has carried over to tennis, to some extent. Take the Berdych Army, for example. Now, Berdy is by no means an obscure journeyman. He’s defeated top players on big stages. Still, for a top 10 player, he’s not an obvious fan pick. Which is why it’s so much fun to see the Berdych Army at the Oz Open. They’ve been following Berdy at the Oz Open since early 2007, before he reached the WTF multiple times and before he was a Wimby finalist. They’ve cheered their man all the way to top 10 status.
Aussie fans paint their faces in Czech colors and attend Berdy’s matches, with creative chants. My favorite is their rendition of the “Barbara Streisand” song, where they replace “Barbara Streisand” with “Tomas Berdych.” It’s a group of rowdy observers cheering spiritedly for their prom king. The juxtaposition is comic and Berdy appreciates their support. They even have a Twitter account and a #tomastime hashtag.
Maybe I should try an “obscure player” edition for Grand Slams? I will have to take a closer look at the draw. No. 74-ranked Lukaz Rosol from the Czech Republic seems like a pick! He faces Philipp Petzschner in R1. Berdych Army — get on it and support your guy’s compatriot!
3. Tennis Players Should Flaunt Their Olympic Success:
I also loved Wertheim’s business idea for an aggregator site like tennisexos.com that would do the publicity for exhos and advertise the matches, so they gain a wider audience. On that note, here’s another small suggestion for tennis exhos:
Here is Sammy Sanchez, the Spanish cyclist who won the “King of the Mountain” jersey at the 2011 TdF, and the polka-dot outfit it entails. In the photo, he is at an exhibition cycling race. Why is he wearing a gold helmet? Why are his shoes and handlebars gold? Answer: Sammy Sanchez is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the road race. He dons the gold for the grand tours and exho he races. Since 2008.
Since tennis players play exhos each year, how amazing would it be if Rafa played his exhos with a gold Babolat racquet or used gold tape for the gripping on his racquet? It’d be quite the way to promote the relevance of the Olympics to tennis. Roger could match him by using his own gold Wilson racquet when he plays a doubles exho with Stan. Yes, Stan would play with a gold racquet too. 🙂
The Australian Open is probably the best-run Grand Slam, in terms of digitally catering to fans’ interests. Whether it’s their TV Vault that offers worldwide access to full matches, their live YouTube streaming of qualies, their Twitter and Tumblr accounts, and their Fan-bassador schemes, they really make an effort.
Given how the Oz Open seems the most forward-thinking of the Slams, it’d be amazing if they could incorporate a “combativity award” and an “adopt-an-obscure player” tradition. A “combativity award” might be considered tacky for a Slam like Wimbledon, which is so steeped in tradition. I’m not sure the idea would take at Roland Garros or the US Open either. If not at the Oz Open, maybe the Shanghai Masters? Those are two big tournys that aren’t as anchored to historical tradition and are looking to generate fan interest.