In a world where race car drivers are far-and-away more popular than almost any tennis player- is it finally time to ask what is tennis doing?
Iga Swiatek is the current number one ranked female tennis player on the planet. She is the very best tennis player that this planet has to offer at the moment. However, compared to the 11th ranked formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, she simply does not hold a candle. It is a very strange idea to grasp. The reality is that the number 1 ranked player, in a sport as commonly played as tennis, is a non-entity compared to 11th best formula 1 athlete. Formula 1 also has a much smaller level of active engagement of fans (almost nobody has driven on a race track, compared to hitting a tennis ball or owning a racquet). Simply look around in your local community- almost every single city in the world has several tennis courts. Additionally, almost every person you know has had a owned a tennis ball or racquet. The barrier for access is far easier than formula 1- yet it does not compare in terms of viewership and popularity. How many race tracks can you count in your city? Virtually none. Yet the engagement in the sport of Formula 1 is many orders of magnitude greater than that of tennis
It is undeniable that tennis is majorly lacking. Let’s be honest- most people who aren’t tennis fans already aren’t tuning in to watch tennis outside of the majors. Simply ask yourself how many people in your friend circle has heard of the Masters1000’s in tennis .The likely answer is an embarrassingly small number. The Masters 1000 events are quite literally the second most important events in the sport besides the 4 majors.
Tennis is a really funny sport. One week the sport has almost zero attention from the general public, with 250s being played at strange times of the day, in far away countries, with lesser known players. It is these weeks where the media is mostly like splurging their covers with NBA, NFL, Soccer and Formula 1 pieces. On any given week outside of a few large tournaments, the media, and the public, could not care less about tennis.
Tennis over the last few weeks has been quieter than a cemetery at midnight. With Davis Cup filling the schedule, tennis has come to a screeching halt post US Open, in terms of engagement from the general public. It has also come to the point where a tough conversation must be had. How does tennis finally start to get the weekly engagement that formula 1 seems to so easily get? How does tennis appeal to casual fans and non-sport?
If one was to observe the tennis world week-to-week, it wouldn’t take long to notice the deafening silence which is the tennis atmosphere at the moment. Flagship tournaments regularly get almost no audience. Just look at the state of the WTA Finals, which was played in Fort Worth, Texas. The most important tennis tournament in women’s tennis, yet the crowd was very small for several fixtures.
The most shocking element of this all, is that tennis likely pulls worse numbers during the regular season, than many other sports during their off-seasons. For instance, the number of people watching off-season editions of NBA talk shows often trumps the viewership of any regular season tennis tournament outside of majors.
For most of the general public, naming a single WTA player outside of perhaps Serena Williams or Naomi Osaka, would be impossible. On the men’s side, if one was to conduct a survey of the general public, you would also be hard pressed to find anybody who could name any of the current men’s top 10, outside of Nadal or Djokovic.
The vast majority of the general public likely do not know, or care, that tennis exists outside of the majors, and this is a huge problem. It is a dire reality, and it is quite unfathomable that the general public’s interest in tennis is virtually non-existent outside of the majors. Even during the majors, over the past 2 years, there were plenty of people who wondered “when is Serena coming on”- totally unaware that she was not participating in that major. Yet they are not wrong, tennis is simply not watched enough. Some of the general public, in the midst of majors, may even ask when Nadal is playing Federer.
Unfortunately, Federer and Serena have retired, and Nadal and Djokovic are not far off. All in all, what does tennis need to do to compete with sports such as formula 1?