I don't know about you, but watching a tennis match with a giant fishnet between the lens of a camera and the court isn't my idea of must-see television, nor do I enjoy seeing two guys go at it, hammer and tong, in an arena so devoid of human life that using a plural pronoun in reference to the spectators seems a reach.
But such things have been a feature of the BNP Paribas Open, the final Masters 1000 of the year, now limping toward conclusion in the Parisian suburb of Bercy. Thankfully, we still have the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and Davis Cup to come, which means the year may yet end with a bang instead of the usual Parisian whimper.
We're drawing to the end of a great fall season that has not only provided a number of rich storylines but also remained blissfully free of carping and whining by the players about the length of the official tennis year. This may be remembered as the fall that shut down what once was a rising demand to create a significantly longer offseason. The other day, even Roger Federer avowed that while the present four weeks is too short an offseason, he could live with something like a six-week break.
Although I believe tennis is an "interval" sport in which periods of intense activity alternate with periods of rest (the spacing of the four Grand Slam events makes the basic case with sufficient clarity), I wouldn't object to the break Federer proposes. Making it happen would be a great way to get rid of the indoor European fall events.
The Paris Indoors Masters shows how trying to play a 64-draw event in an indoor arena (in this case the Palais Omnisport in Bercy -- an impressive enough building from the outside) is an ill-advised idea that has outlived its usefulness.
You cheapen a product when you repeatedly put top 10 players on "outside" indoor courts, where maybe six fans bother to sit down and watch. And how about that cheesy pop-and-house music that resonates throughout the entire arena when the main court isn't in use? Nothing like watching Stan Wawrinka wax Ivan Ljubicic to a pounding bass line and some DJ screaming, "Yo, yo, yo."
Sure, they get a good crowd for a center-court match involving a Federer, Djokovic or Monfils. But Bercy is a one-court show at best (and during early day sessions, even that one often features a sea of empty seats). The business model for an indoor, single-elimination, 64-draw (even with byes for the top seeds) is a familiar one to any circus impresario who's had to address the age-old riddle: How many clowns can you fit in a phone booth?
I guess if the promoters can justify wasting so much talent by displaying it so poorly and offering so much tennis in which nobody seems even remotely interested, the point is moot. But if I were assigned the job of selling tennis to a discerning sports fan, or even someone interested in spectacle, I'd hide the remote during conventional indoor tournaments (events like the upcoming ATP tour final and certainly the Davis Cup are another story all together).
My main reaction to what I've seen of Bercy so far is: Bring on the six-week offseason!