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U.S.'s loss is tennis world's gain

4/24/2012

The tennis week is still young, but we've already had a couple of newsworthy developments. On Tuesday, Wimbledon announced that, at the urging of the ATP's top four players, the tournament has increased total prize money 10 percent, and provided the biggest gains for early-round losers.

That was the good news. But along with it came some bad news, at least for U.S. tennis fans. On Monday we were given confirmation that the ATP event in San Jose would fold up its net after the 2013 edition. The tournament, under different names and at different locations, has been held in greater San Francisco since 1889, making it the second-oldest in the country. Now the Bay Area, home to Helen Wills, Don Budge, Brad Gilbert and others, will be without pro tennis. Instead, the ATP and IMG will create a new 500-level event in Rio de Janeiro.

Both of these stories are the latest examples of long-standing trends within the sport, which might be summed up in two sentences: (1) the U.S.'s loss is the world's gain; and (2) it's good to be the Grand Slams these days.

It rare to hear of a company that can listen to its employees' request for a broad-based raise and turn around and do it right away, but that's the position of success that Wimbledon and the French Open, which also increased prize money across the board, find themselves in. And though the San Jose event couldn't draw big-name players or fans, another smaller U.S. tournament, in Washington D.C., just announced that it has secured a new title sponsor, Citigroup. It doesn't hurt that D.C. -- formerly the Legg Mason, now to be called the Citi Open -- is part of the U.S. Open Series and its umbrella sponsorship deal. San Jose was on its own.

Journalist Matt Cronin noted on Tennis.com that in 1980 there were 20 ATP tournaments played in the U.S. between mid-January and early May; now there will be just five. This is tough to swallow for a country that has been a tennis power for the sport's entire history. At the moment, it seems that power and prestige have shifted to the top male players. None of them, of course, happen to be American.

But tennis is a global game, and it's well-positioned to follow the money and the buzz. Although it's hard to believe that San Francisco, along with Chicago and Seattle and Dallas and a half-dozen other big U.S. cities, won't have professional tennis, it's not hard to believe that the tour and IMG would want to be in Rio. Brazil is booming, the city will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, and South America is conspicuous for its lack of a Slam or a Masters event. It's a move that, in hindsight, seems logical and even inevitable. We'll see which players come to Rio in February, but the thought of a new tournament down doesn't sound, even to this American, like the end of the world. It just feels like that world keeps spinning.