Americans choose racket over remote control

Tue Aug 24, 2010 9:56am EDT
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Tennis has moved out of the country club and turned into one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States as Americans looking for a cheap pastime in a bad economy have hit the courts.

On the professional circuit, the U.S. Open starts next week but, if recent viewership trends are any indication, not as many Americans will tune in as did in years past.

These days, they are more likely to grab a racket than a remote control. The number of Americans playing tennis increased 43 percent to 18.5 million from 2000 to 2009, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA).

That is the steepest growth for any traditional sport, leaving aside games such as lacrosse and table tennis.

Golf, which has always been closely associated with tennis because of its country-club roots, has seen some decline.

The SGMA said golf dropped five percent last year to 27.1 million players, even before the Tiger Woods scandal.

Experts say this latest tennis craze is less of a celebrity-driven phenomenon than the last U.S. tennis boom in the 1970s, when American professionals such as Jimmy Connors, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe dominated the game and drew amateurs to the courts in emulation of their idols.

"This current boom that's happened in tennis has been orchestrated, we've been working on it a long time," said Kurt Kamperman, chief executive of community tennis at the United States Tennis Association (USTA).   Continued...

<p>China's Li Na serves to Australia's Anaststia Rodionova at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 26, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>