After watching the tail end of the re-broadcast of the Federer-Nadal match, I can't help but lament the place that men's tennis has taken in the collective consciousness of the American sports fan.
It wasn't long ago that the Grand Slams took over much of the sports coverage on the news and ESPN. Agassi and/or Sampras were mainstays in the finals in seemingly every Grand Slam. Other American male tennis players were household names. Agassi hawked cameras when tennis wasn't actually on television. Like during Seinfeld. First-run episodes. Seriously.
Then the great Americans got old. Sampras retired. Agassi stuck around, made a couple more deep runs, couldn't beat Federer, retired. The next American hope stepped up. Well, maybe he didn't step up, but Roddick made some Wimbledon finals, won a U.S. Open, and then flamed out. And seriously, Sampras and Agassi didn't have to face a Federer in their time. And don't get me wrong, Sampras was great. Maybe he would have been able to go head-to-head against Federer in a time vacuum--both in their primes--and won. But Federer has truly seemed invincible on any surface other than clay for the past five years, and Sampras was never the top ranked ATP Men's player for 232 straight weeks. No one not named Roger Federer was.
Now that Rafael Nadal has emerged as a legitimate threat on surfaces not starting with a C-L and ending with an A-Y, it would seem that men's tennis should be in a great spot, but it seems like American's still don't care. Maybe they cannot make themselves give a damn about a capri-wearing Spaniard and a well-rounded Swiss(-man?) because Spain and Switzerland are two countries that don't really matter that much on a global scale.
Perhaps the women's game has overtaken the men's game in terms of popularity because of their respective lengths and our corresponding shrinking attention spans. The times have changed. Baseball--another sport whose popularity has waned as faster-moving or more action-packed sports (perception-wise, at least) have begun to take a bite into its share of the sports fan's viewing time--disappears from SportsCenter as soon as football season kicks into full-swing. Hell, there was a time when a gasoline fight between models ending in explosion elicited laughs, and as I fill my '86 Fleetwood with 18 gallons of $4.00 gas such egregious waste is downright offensive and nearly brings me to tears. The world has changed at least in some respects. Maybe the sexiness of the Maria Sharapova's of women's tennis can outdraw the brute force and quicker speed of the men's game. Maybe the Americanlessness of the men's game is that insurmountable, and until there is another contender on the stage, we'll see a continuation of American apathy towards the men's game. If that is the case, it's really too bad, as we are missing out on one hell of a burgeoning rivalry as Rafael Nadal comes into his own.
See? Not funny, now is it?