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Tenaciously Tennis


Clijsters Claims Win Over Serena with Biggest Crowd Ever

When Justine Henin withdrew from the “Battle of the Belgians,” Serena Williams took her place to meet Kim Clijsters. That decision didn’t work out quite so well for the American, who lost to Clijsters 6-3, 6-2 in Brussels on Thursday.

At the same time, the exhibition was successful. In fact, it’ll be known as the most successful match since the famed “Battle of the Sexes” epic between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs decades ago. While not the longest match in history by about 10 hours, it was the most attended.

According to an Associated Press article, “The crowd of 35,681 at King Baudouin Stadium on Thursday surpassed the previous record of 30,472 set in 1973 at the Houston Astrodome in the Battle of the Sexes match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.” The match was chaired by Martina Navratilova.

The implications of such a historic match are astounding. The parallels between this match and the John Isner and Nicholas Mahut marathon, especially occurring so close to one another, many things for tennis — yet to be seen. The longest match, and the most attended — both in one month’s time? Then, to have a tennis player — Serena Williams — on the cover of the one of the most, if not the, most widely read sports magazine, Sports Illustrated, sends a clear message: tennis is set for a popularity boom.

I’m going out on a limb here. I’m not using statistics. Sure, people widely consider those the definitive statistics necessary to calculate whether or not tennis is being played more frequently, and thus boasts future popularity gains. But I’m going on a more basic, emotional level. The game is getting good. It’s getting really good, very quickly.

There’s drama now: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal aren’t the only ones doing major damage at the Grand Slams. Okay, so Federer won the Australian Open and Nadal took the other two. Fine. But they’re being tested, and that’s a great thing for the sport.

On the women’s side, variety is creeping back into the game. Caroline Wozniacki, a player that can get hit off the court (think about her lopsided loss to Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon) is holding her own. She’s ranked three in the world. There’s also Jelena Jankovic, Agnieszka Radwanska, and a slew of other players poised to keep power at bay and put spin, sharp angles, and sound tactics ahead of brute force. Francesca Schiavone won the French Open at 30 — an amazing feat. We’re seeing great confidence surging throughout the lesser-tiered players — Kaia Kanepi and Tsvetana Pironkova played their hearts out to win the big matches despite being ranked outside the top 50. Tomas Berdych on the men’s side is back in a big way.

There’s a changing of the guard in the game of tennis, and it’s an exciting one to witness. I’m saying it does wonders for popularity, too. And if not, who cares? The current fans couldn’t be happier. Well, this fan couldn’t be happier.

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Belgians Break Battle of the Sexes Attendance Record

Posted in Billie Jean King,Bobby Riggs,Justine Henin,Kim Clijsters by Ben on June 9, 2010

With their champion status, enticing rivalry, and successful comebacks it is no wonder that Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters are set to break the attendance record set back in 1972 during a “Battle of the Sexes” exhibition match. The “Best of the Belgians” match-up has sold 30, 670 tickets, while 30, 472 fans flocked to watch Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs play over 35 years ago.

Big events like this will tremendously help the sport’s popularity world-wide. More of these types of mass gatherings of tennis fans should take place, and not only at the Grand Slams. Instead, there should be a greater effort on the part of event and tournament planners to bring in and successfully market the sport at the largest venues possible. Not only that, but the play should transcend singles. Doubles needs to be included, too. Not only will the publicity attract a larger following of doubles fans for the future, it will help the doubles specialists who no doubt feel disenfranchised by the current state of affairs.

Regardless of what could and should be, it’s an exceptional effort being made on the part of Belgian tennis for this to occur. The Belgian tennis promoter Bob Verbeeck must surely be proud of this accomplishment. The June 8 event will no doubt be quite a match to remember.

Although only an exhibition, meaning the players don’t receive any points and typically tend to play more relaxed games, I see this being a much different affair. Because of the rivalry between Henin and Clijsters, which currently remains tied at 12 wins a piece, along with the grandeur of the attendance, I believe both with truly put up a fight. It’s not everyday that 30,000 people are watching a tennis match live. In fact, the last time was all those years ago.

I see the healthier Henin taking this one in three close sets.


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