Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on November 19, 2008
A year ago, Roger Federer capped off another amazing year by playing a series of exhibition matches against Pete Sampras, the only man to have won more Grand Slams, in Macao and some other cities. Now Federer is back at Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian hotel and casino in Macao, and both are worse for wear. Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands company, hammered by the recession, has called a halt to construction on its other Macao projects, putting over 10,000 people out of work. Federer arrives in Macao fresh off another loss, this time at the Masters in Shanghai, having lost his No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal and now in danger of losing the No. 2 spot to Novak Djokovic.
That’s the situation in the real world, at least. But the goal of big Vegas-type casinos is to cut you off from reality; no windows on the gambling floor, the better to let you cocoon yourself and lose more money. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, according to the website of Adelson’s Venetian, all those bad losses to Nadal and Djokovic and Murray didn’t really happen. Here, Federer is still ranked No. 1.
More seriously, this year’s exhibition series – which includes Federer as well as James Blake, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg – comes at a time when professional tennis’s hopes of building the Asia market are dimming. The Masters last week in Shanghai didn’t generate much buzz and professional tennis is giving up on China as the location for its season-ending tournament. Next year’s is set for London. The ATP will still have a tournament in China, but the pro tour has its work cut out trying to establish itself in the minds of Asian sports fans, says Seamus O’Brien, CEO of World Sport Group, a Singapore-based promoter who focuses more on golf and soccer. “The core of tennis is Europe and North America,” he says. In Asia, “there are no local players,” he adds. For a while a few years ago, Thailand’s Paradorn was on a winning streak, generating some excitement. Today, some Chinese women have won some high-profile matches. But for the most part, O’Brien is right. There aren’t nearly enough big name Asian players to make fans here excited about the game.