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Not enough love for tennis in San Jose

Photos by Eric Taylor/1st String

HP PAVILION — It’s the second oldest tennis tournament in the United States after the US Open. And after 125 years, the curtain is coming down on the SAP Open.

Some of the biggest names in Tennis have played in this annual tournament, from John McEnroe, Jimmy Conners, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Andy Roddick.

But in recent years, men’s tennis has really fallen in popularity, particularly in the United States.

The governing body, the Association of Tennis Professionals, better known as the ATP, has decided the tournament must be relocated because it requires venues to have three courts for use. The HP Pavilion is a one court venue which makes it challenging for participants to practice between matches.

But the main reasons are lack of attendance and inability for the tournament to secure the top names in the sport. After the retirement of Sampras and Agassi, the top American and face of the SAP Open was Roddick.

While a fan favorite, Roddick’s surly attitude towards the media and his inability to capitalize on his success in 2003 when he won the US Open as the last American to win a grand slam, further exacerbates the demise of tennis as a sport in America.

Roddick reached four other Grand Slam finals (Wimbledon in 2004, 2005, and 2009, and the US Open in 2006), losing to Roger Federer each time.

Currently, 27-year old John Isner is the top ranked American in the game. He understands why the sport struggles in popularity, particularly when there are so many other sports that fans follow and tennis isn’t even in the top five.

Audio: John Isner

“Tennis in America is probably…number six or maybe number seven (in popularity).  You’ve got NHL, NFL, NBA, Baseball, Golf, NASCAR. Tennis probably falls right after that in America which I can sort of understand. We haven’t had a grand slam champion in ten years now. That’s something that we’re trying to work on. Every American tennis player is trying to ultimately reach that goal.”

Tennis is a sport that thrived in the 1970’s because of the personalities.  Players like McEnroe, Conners, and Agassi understood their roles as entertainers and the sport is lacking that today.

Except for Novak Djokovic, no other top player in the game has that sort of fiery demeanor. As great a player as Federer is, he just isn’t as dynamic when it comes to feeding off the emotion of fans.

This week, the tournament plays host one final time to men’s tennis before it departs for Memphis. One of the attractions is two-time defending champion Milos Raonic.  The 22-year old Canadian is dynamic, energetic, and most of all, he’s good and only going to get better.

The other featured attraction was the Bryan Brothers. Past tense is used because twin brothers Mike and Bob were upset by the unseeded duo of Australians Lleyton Hewitt and Marinko Matosevic, Thursday night. This was unexpected because not only were the Bryan Brothers the top seed, they’re also the number one ranked doubles team in the world.

Raonic thinks the reason American tennis isn’t as popular as it once was is because there are no American rivalries in the game today:

Audio: Milos Raonic

“I think you don’t have a rivalry like you had with Agassi and Sampras or before that with Conners and McEnroe.  I guess that’s the only thing holding tennis growth here back.”

Not only is San Jose losing its tournament, but the Open in Los Angeles hosted its final tourney last year as well. Isner says that doesn’t help to promote the sport:

“Losing tournaments like this does hurt the marketability of tennis and especially in this area. This is a great area for tennis but that’s not going to be the case after this week.”

The SAP Open runs through Sunday.  For more information, go to

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