Imagine Roger Federer playing one of the Williams sisters. Or Rafael Nadal facing Maria Sharapova.
Tennis promoter Steve Bellamy envisions such matchups one day, although he’ll go with less dynamic pairings for now. On Aug. 3, he’ll stage what’s believed to be the first tournament involving world-ranked men and women going head to head.
The one-day competition in suburban Pacific Palisades comes with several big rules changes: No overhand serve, second serves or lets. All serving is drop-hit and struck from below the waist.
“About 40 percent of the points in tennis are won on the serve or the return,” said Bellamy, founder of The Tennis Channel and chief executive of The Ski Channel. “Basically, half the points are over before they even start. Men dominate women in tennis mainly because of the serve, so this concept neutralizes that advantage.”
Bellamy said American players Vince Spadea, Justin Gimelstob, Derrick Rostagno and Alexandra Stevenson are among those expected to play. Spadea is ranked No. 70 and Stevenson No. 204; Rostagno and Gimelstob are no longer on the tour.
I like this idea in a “why the hell not?” kinda way. My only complaint is inviting Justin, a.k.a. Bobby Riggs 2.0, to the party. And obviously some female players, like the Williams sisters, could use their serve as a weapon, not a liability. But the real fun comes in imagining the ideal world where the top players really do participate, and thinking about all the intriguing match ups we could see.
Here are some of my favorite fantasy matchups:
Justine Henin vs. Roger Federer (obviously)
Rafa Nadal vs. Serena Williams (the muscles!)
Novak Djokovic vs. Maria Sharapova (oncourt sizzle)
Marat Safin vs. Dinara Safina (sibling rivalry)
Elena Dementieva vs. anyone (we’d finally see how big a liability that serve really is)
So what do y’all think? Is the mixed gender tournament concept pure novelty or an exciting innovation? And what matchups do you find irresistable?