Becker Reveals the Naked Truth

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF POWELL

IT WAS just as well that our Greg pulled his game together in time to make a stimulating spectacle of his first Grand Slam tennis final.

By stretching Patrick Rafter to a fourth set and deep into the third hour on Sunday afternoon, Rusedski took a more orthodox approach to exciting spectator interest in a sport which has been plunging down the audience ratings faster than Boris Becker's modesty.

The old Wimbledon-meister has a new way of alerting tennis to public apathy of crisis proportions.

'Unless something is done the game will be kaputt by the year 2000,' he says. 'What we need is more transparency.' To illustrate his point, Becker has posed in the nude for the German magazine Stern.

These photographs, he explains, will draw attention to the plight of a sport which is withering on the airwaves.

'Tennis,' he confirms, 'has a problem with sinking TV ratings, sponsors and spectators.' By transparency he is not referring to the naked images of himself.

It took Becker 'two glasses of wine' to nerve himself for the photo session but the message the pictures carry is a sobering one: 'We must open up to television. The locker room should not be taboo any longer. There must be better presentation, more entertainment. Pete Sampras cannot carry the game single-handed.' There's the crux.

America is the financial bedrock of the game but the viewers here were switching off in their millions as their men Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang tumbled out of the US Open.

R u s e d s k i v e r s u s Rafter was all very jolly for Britain and Australia but when these two virtual unknowns to the American public reached the men's sing l e s f i n a l C B S Television was wishing its cameras were at the skateboarding, the surfing, the beach volleyball.

Those comparatively trivial pursuits - let alone basketball, football, baseball and every conceivable form of motorised racing - were already ahead in the ratings. If tennis, currently in 23rd place, drops much further it will find itself below a r m - w r e s t l i n g a n d truck-pulling.

America's reaction may be tiresomely parochial - if we're not winning, we're not watching - but the problem is universal.

As Rafter coasted into a two-set lead at least half the TV sets in the building around the court switched over to live American football or reruns of Princess Diana's funeral. Some turned back as the scoreboards showed Rusedski rallying, while inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium our lapsed Canadian's True Brit fightback against Rafter's brilliance brought New York to its feet.

YET BY standing, the crowd merely camou-f l a g e d t h e many empty seats among the 23,700 places in this towering new arena.

For this they have spent $254million on remodelling the National Tennis Centre? …