ANNOUNCED By the United States Tennis Association, the formation
of the U.S. Open Series, which will consolidate the North
American hard-court events that precede the USTA's signature
event, the U.S. Open. The USTA's ability to bring the men's and
women's tours, four television networks and 10 independently
owned and operated tournaments to the table and come away with a
cohesive summer circuit makes for a remarkable feat of diplomacy.
No sport is more divided than tennis, the constituents being an
impossibly variegated mix of federations, promoters, management
groups, tours and players whose interests are seldom aligned.
(When the two tours issued a joint media guide for 2004, it was
hailed as a major collaborative effort.) But using the television
rights to the Open as leverage, the USTA persuaded CBS and ESPN
to devote more than 100 hours of coverage to the series and to
air the finals at a consistent time. "If you know that late
afternoons every Sunday you can watch live tennis," says Arlen
Kantarian, the USTA's chief executive for professional tennis,
"that goes a long way toward building fans." The series is also a
boon for players: The top three finishers on the circuit will
earn as much as $1.3 million in bonus money. "[It's] exactly what
tennis needs," says Venus Williams.

Tennis being tennis, not everyone will be thrilled, not least the
European players and promoters who feel the schedule is already
too deferential to American television interests. There is also
concern that the other Grand Slams will follow the USTA's
template--don't be surprised if the spring European clay court
events become a French Open Series--which could put smaller
tournaments out of business. Still, anything that unifies a
notoriously fractured sport while improving its television
packaging has to be applauded. --L. Jon Wertheim

COLOR PHOTO: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS (WILLAIMS) NET GAIN Williams endorses the idea of a hard-court series leading up to the U.S. Open.