The U.S. Open, which got underway Monday at Flushing Meadows Park, has become like the Super Bowl inasmuch as it has become a business event as much as an athletic one.
Last Wednesday, Nike took over Pier 54 on Manhattan’s West Side for an exhibition that the company labeled “Primetime Knockout.” Nike called on nearly everyone of its highly-compensated tennis stars/endorsers including, Serena Williams (who wore a boot on her injured right foot and will miss the Open this year), Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Douglaston’s own John McEnroe, to take part in some light-hearted doubles matches.
Nike officials announced that they were donating thousands of dollars’ worth of tennis equipment to a number of nonprofit youth sports organization including the Woodside-based New York Junior Tennis League. While there was a philanthropic aspect to Primetime Knockout, Nike was sending a clear reminder of its dominance in tennis to such rivals as the upstart Under Armour, and the resurgent Reebok, which just opened a huge company store at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
On a smaller scale of brand promotion, Ralph Lauren Polo had Venus Williams conduct a clinic for kids on Randall’s Island last Thursday while the following day Lacoste dispatched Andy Roddick to the Macy’s at Queens Center for a meet-and-greet.
Speaking of Roddick, he holds the distinction of being the last American to win the men’s championship but that was back in 2003. Two years later he was the focus of American Express’s “Where’s Andy’s Mojo?” campaign which embarrassed everyone involved when Roddick was upset by Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller in the first round of the 2005 U.S. Open.
American Express has dropped Roddick this year from its signage along the LIRR-7 train Willets Point boardwalk in favor of hopefully rising American players John Isner and Sam Querrey. Panasonic believes that the U.S. Open is perfect place to showcase its latest television technology as it has taken out a booth for spectators to watch matches in 3-D.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg hosted a reception for the United States Tennis Association at Gracie Mansion last Thursday evening and among the attendees was Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, former borough president Claire Shulman, former mayor and well-known tennis buff David Dinkins as well as the 1968 U.S. Open women’s champion, Virginia Wade.
I asked Wade, who was born in England but now lives on the Upper East Side, about the possibility of Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the site of the ’68 Open, being torn down to make way for condominiums. “Of course I am saddened by it, but the stadium has been in a state of disrepair for a long time so I do understand the thinking of the board of the West Side Tennis Club,” Wade said.
Sportscaster extraordinaire, and Forest Hills native, Ian Eagle will be kept busy in his home borough. He is slated to do nine days of studio hosting Open coverage for both the Tennis Channel and CBS.