My fellow Kentuckians, Matt Jones and Drew Franklin, run the nation’s most successful independent college sports website. Kentucky Sports Radio is a go to source for any University of Kentucky fan and is revolutionary in the same manner of the 1970s launch of The Cats’ Pause. Both of these innovations were born from and are directed toward fans of the University of Kentucky. My earliest sports memories are the 1982 Wimbledon men’s final and the 1982-1983 University of Kentucky basketball season. I remember telling my father that Jim Master must be a master because he shot so well. To my 7 year old brain this was my first sports quip. Therefore, anything combing tennis and University of Kentucky basketball is of immediate interest to me.
I met and spoke to Matt Jones and briefly met Drew Franklin this past summer at the Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati. Matt was the same gregarious and intelligent person in face to face conversation that he projects on radio broadcasts. He thanked me for promoting their work at Indian Wells and even said I looked a bit like a young Ian Eagle.
The Tennis Channel hired this duo of Kentuckians to start a tennis blog entitled The Outer Courts. I being a Kentuckian familiar with their work was happy to see this news. They have covered Indian Wells, Cincinnati and the US Open to this point. I hope that the Tennis Channel decides to expand their coverage in 2014 to include Miami and the Canadian Masters 1000 event that rotates between Toronto and Montreal. At both Indian Wells and the US Open, college athletics pulled this duo away from the tournament prior to its conclusion. Therefore, I think their entertaining work at Cincinnati is the best example of what they have done and can do covering tennis.
My Assessment of Their Work
I first off like their offbeat approach. Tennis needs to democratize itself and attract sports fans who have not necessarily latched onto tennis. Matt and Drew rightly pointed out when covering Indian Wells that the crowds at tennis tournaments are some of the most interesting and eclectic groups of people one finds in sports. Their ability to capture this unique mix of fans is a great way to crack open the often insular world of tennis. My guess is that if people see more of the tennis world they will like it and want to see even more. Focusing on this has the potential of building a larger fan base. That alone makes the Outer Courts a great venture on the part of the Tennis Channel.
Second, Matt Jones’ willingness to take on the press from the UK when Andy Murray was asked in detail about a specific bathroom break at the US Open was one of the funniest things that I have ever read. If you have not read “British Media … Let Andy Murray Poop in Peace” yet, please do so. I cannot imagine Jones asking a UK basketball player such as John Wall or Anthony Davis about his bathroom habits. Jones’ humorous incredulity comes through quite vividly.
Jones and Franklin’s willingness to ruffle a few feathers and crack open the world of tennis has led to a few conflicts beyond just the prying British press. During the Cincinnati event, Matt’s daily radio show, that typically deals with college basketball and football, included a comment on the New York Times‘ tennis writer Ben Rothenberg’s manner of asking questions during press conferences and his method of promoting his podcast. Some sort of mildly tense but productive interaction between Rothenberg and The Outer Courts’ writers ensued in the following days.
We salute Ben Rothenberg for being a good sport (he came up to us today, not all together happy but also not necessarily angry…somewhere in the middle) and for actually providing some knowledge and entertainment during these long tennis rallies. Next time you are in Kentucky Rothenberg, the BBN will treat you to a drink and a sparkling good time.
Matt and Drew also had fun talking to and taking photos with tennis players in the elevator at Cincinnati. This led to a memorable encounter with Rafael Nadal who enjoyed the interaction. It also led to an awkward encounter with the painfully shy Juan Martin del Potro.
This leads to my only critique. I think rattling cages is something the tennis world needs from time to time. Drawing in fans who might not otherwise pay much attention to tennis and highlighting stories and unique aspects of the professional tennis tours is of paramount importance. Still, I also met Ben Rothenberg in Cincinnati, and he was a nice guy who provides a lot of content to tennis fans through his work. Juan Martin del Potro is nearly universally considered to be a nice guy.
My suggestion is that The Outer Courts continue to cover tennis in the most ridiculous manner possible. However, when choosing institutions and practices in the tennis world to needle and challenge, to paraphrase that old man in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade I simply suggest choosing wisely.
Having said all of that, The Outer Courts provides a look at tennis from a unique and new perspective. They offer humor in a manner different from Bud Collins’ nicknames, and that is a good thing. So Tennis Channel, please expand their role to more events. Andy Murray is begging for you to do so.
What the heck since the internet is all about self-promotion