Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Team Tennis Silences Critics by Allowing Fans to Make Noise

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Team Tennis Silences Critics by Allowing Fans to Make Noise

Article excerpt

The mandate is becoming clear for professional tennis: Wise up, lighten up and liven up, or else.

The fans have spoken. TV ratings are down. Sponsors are reconsidering their investments. The media are pleading for changes.

This month's issue of Tennis magazine offers 13 ways to wake up pro tennis. Last week's Sports Illustrated checks in with 10 more.

It's time to stop insulting the paying public by shushing them before every point and making them languish in stadium tunnels until they can take their seats on changeovers.

Ever since the St. Louis Aces were born last fall, co-owner Jack Levitt has been extolling the virtues of team tennis and sounding every bit like the promoter that he is. But his view, and that of league founder Billie Jean King, is validated in Sports Illustrated's "Is Tennis Dying?," which is otherwise a stinging condemnation of pro tennis.

"These guys have laughed at Billie Jean for years," Chris Evert told the magazine. "It turns out she was right."

Levitt says he fell in love with team tennis 15 years ago, when he first saw a WTT match.

"Tennis is a great game, but it's gone astray," he says. "Team tennis is the answer, and I've always felt that way."

WTT streamlines the game by playing five one-set matches, with no-ad scoring and tie-breakers at 5-5 instead of 6-6. Public-address announcers encourage crowd noise rather than discourage it. WTT spectators generally are quiet as players prepare to serve, but absolute silence isn't a must. Levitt calls the notion that players in tournament tennis can't concentrate if there's a little noise "a lot of bull. It's a cop-out."

WTT is more above-board. A tournament earlier this year in Qatar gave Pete Sampras $500,000 just to show up, so he flew in the night before his match and lost in the first round to a qualifier from Morocco. In WTT, Levitt says, the salaries of Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova are set in advance, but everyone else must win to earn above the league minimum salary of $6,000. …

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