When Serena and Venus Williams take the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday night, they’ll add one other line to their résumé: It’s the primary time a first-round U.S. Open women’s doubles match will probably be played in an evening session at Ashe.
Often doubles matches, especially in the primary round, are limited to smaller courts, where fans often wander between matches. A main time slot in the most important stadium at the united statesT.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is a coveted spot — and the tournament has not been shy about displaying Serena Williams, who has said that this U.S. Open is prone to be her last before she retires from playing tennis.
Putting Williams in the primary match of an evening session within the stadium with probably the most seats is smart for the U.S. Open. It’s a probability to sell probably the most tickets, draw higher TV rankings and pack the encompassing plazas. For the broader tennis world, it’s also a probability to attract recent fans to the sport before she retires.
Jon Wertheim, a Tennis Channel analyst and creator, said a challenge for the USA Tennis Association can be to “alchemize all of this good will.”
“Turn all of those messages about access and toppling conventional wisdom and variety right into a spike in participation,” Wertheim said. “It’s been couched as ‘the secondary ticket market is exploding’ and ‘that is great for TV rankings.’ But the true challenge is popping this short-term uptick into real long-term growth.”
The U.S. Open was blunt concerning the excitement over Serena Williams after she won her second-round singles match Wednesday night when the tournament said on Twitter, “SO MUCH SERENA CONTENT” in an all-caps post with 31 exclamation points.
SO MUCH SERENA CONTENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 1, 2022
And Williams acknowledged the celebratory feel of the tournament in light of her recent retirement announcement.
Credit…John Minchillo/Associated Press
“I’ve mostly been type of blocking all the things out, but then at the identical time I’ve been embracing somewhat little bit of it because I also wish to benefit from the moment,” she said. “I believe these moments are clearly fleeting. For me, it’s really about having somewhat embrace but additionally understanding that I’m here to focus, do the very best that I can this time.”
Even a number of the players have been moved by the excitement surrounding Williams. After winning a second-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus on Thursday, Jessica Pegula, a 28-year-old American, said it had been inspiring to see Williams on the tournament.
“If we don’t have an evening match, all of us activate the TV, and we watch because we wish to see what’s happening, what’s going to occur, how she’s playing,” Pegula said. “I feel like she’s just absorbing each point, each second of being on the market and being Serena. I believe it’s just been pretty cool to look at.”
Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management at George Washington University, said that as Williams continues her run on the U.S. Open the tournament has to “make the most of the situation immediately because the celebs have aligned, and also you couldn’t write a greater script should you tried.”
“As with every marketer bridge, you’ve to take every advantage and leverage every opportunity that may promote your sport,” Neirotti said. “Serena Williams immediately is a Cinderella story, which each American loves, right? But it surely’s so rather more than tennis.”
Danielle Allen, 30, who described herself as a recent tennis fan, flew in from Chicago this week to attend her first U.S. Open. While she didn’t have tickets to see Williams play, she hoped to look at her practice.
“Only a glimpse can be awesome,” Allen said, drinking a honey deuce within the plaza in front of Ashe Stadium. “She’s like our Michael Jordan.”
While men’s tennis has players like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, women’s tennis is not going to have a transparent superstar after Williams retires.
There was hope that Ashleigh Barty, who has won three Grand Slam tournaments, could fill that void. But in March, she surprised the tennis world by retiring at 25. Iga Swiatek of Poland, the present world No. 1, has won two Grand Slam singles titles, nevertheless it’s unclear if she’ll maintain that success. Naomi Osaka, 24, of Japan, has won 4 Grand Slam events since 2018, but she has struggled recently, including at this tournament, where she lost in the primary round.
A study last month by Morning Seek the advice of of two,210 Americans, including 1,513 self-identified sports fans, found that about one-third of Americans were “less interested” in women’s tennis with Williams retiring.
Credit…Anna Watts for The Recent York Times
But Allen said she would watch tennis more.
“The last recent years, I’m seeing numerous great recent talent come through,” she said, citing Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American, for example. “It’s good to see, especially people of color.”
There could also be a lull until a dominant force like Williams emerges again, but Wertheim said that over time, one will rise, comparing Williams’s retirement to when Michael Jordan retired from the N.B.A.
“There will probably be some adjusting and marketing challenges, and there will probably be some years of parity,” Wertheim said. “Eventually, one other star will fill the void. Possibly not a star that wins greater than 20 majors, however the sport will prevail. It all the time does.”
Delpy Neirotti said tennis had lost stars before, pointing to Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, only for brand spanking new ones to emerge.
“I don’t think tennis is dead by any means,” she said. “It’s only a recent generation.”