msg: the arena, not the flavoring

Nick here, parked deep in the confines of Madison Square Garden in the Press Room, awaiting the Big Show to get underway for the Billie Jean King Cup. If there’s little to write about the significance of tonight’s tennis, there’s plenty to write about the place – and the meaning – of where these great female athletes are going to perform. And what it could mean beyond these famous walls, if the tennis did end up mattering tonight.

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The MSG has long been known as “The World’s Most Famous Arena” because of its size, its location, its experience and its tradition. But in the last decade, tennis has lost its vital connection to said holy place: the WTA Season Ending Championships went overseas, and the storied men’s and women’s tournaments of winter persuasion found different venues and sponsors to bear their names.

If you’re at all familiar with tennis in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, you’ll remember the name Virginia Slims. VS was a title sponsor of the tour for awhile, and was head sponsor for the SECs through 1994. It wasn’t the greatest combo – a cigarette brand and a professional sport – but it worked for a long, long time.

As David mentioned the other day, Martina Navratilova owned the Garden through much of her career, and I’ll be making sure to glance up at the rafters tonight to see if indeed, Martina is hanging from the ceiling – immortalized as she should be. 

But the problem with women’s tennis today is that it’s less than great and it doesn’t deserve the association with such a place as the Garden. Or, does it? Perhaps an event like this is just what women’s tennis needs at this moment. Imagine if Ana played well, pushing Serena to the brink and then Jelena upset Venus and the final was a three-set barn burner. 

Then, imagine if at Indian Wells later this month that Maria Sharapova made a dashing return from injury. A week later Dinara Safina scored her first big win at Miami, and at Rome in May, Venus and Maria proved their worthiness on clay by facing off in the final. And then – Voila! - Amelie stole the heart of the world and captured her home slam at Roland Garros.

Then we’d have a great tour. An MSG tour.

Perhaps the MSG can be the start of something new for the women’s tour, an entity that has suffered blow after blow over the last five years, and has watched itself fall from greatness to a tennis afterthought: “Did you see the Rafa-Fed match?!? Oh ya… and Serena beat Marat’s sister.”

Serena had this to say in the press conference today: “Because of Billie Jean, we’re all here.” And Billie Jean has this to say to the women’s pro tennis tour: “Pressure is a privilege.” Perhaps those are all wise words, and if the able-bodied women of this tour could get their guts about them and see that they’ve got a chance to be great, then we’d have a real tennis tour. A flavor-enhancing, better-than-I-ever-thought-it-would-be tennis tour. 

Maybe the MSG is a launching pad. It sure looks like one – os does it look like a crashing one? I hope it’s the former.

(image via the nyt)

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