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I’ll Never Understand Why Mixed Martial Arts Is More Popular Than Tennis Right Now

October 14, 2012

This might actually turn into a little bit of a rant, and if it does, please excuse me.

Our story starts with the finals of the Shanghai Masters Series 1000 tournament, which saw new-in-2012 pairings Radek Stepanek and Leander Paes going against Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna. Now all in tennis know that Bhupathi and Paes played together for years and put up some very, very strong numbers together. Of course, we all know that those years didn’t go together so peacefully.

They reunited last year, but broke up when Bopanna became someone the veterans wanted to partner with in preparation for the Olympics. Bhupathi ended up with him and Paes decided to partner with Stepanek in Tour events for the year. The latter partnership was a hit right out the box as they won the Australian Open to kick off the Slam season.

Anyway, a lot went down with the three Indian players and the national tennis association, with Davis Cup suspensions even being handed out. In other words, there was a LOT of drama going into that title match in Shanghai. Throw in the fact that Paes and Steps are two players that are, shall we say, not shy, and you potentially have the most exciting sports event of the day: more so than any NFL game, and I’m a huge New York Jets. I was even at the game today!

So that gets me to my main point: Aside from amazing feats of athleticism regularly on display, there’s often a lot of behind-the-scenes things going on–good and bad. That, to me, is the formula for a sport being popular: great stories, physical prowess. I’ve always felt nothing captures that more than tennis, and it pains me to see it buried in the sports pages or online when it’s the only sport you see something happen every day of its season. The first round of a tournament is fraught with drama: the unseeded players who, if they win, live to fight one more day–and if they’re really trying to break through, might even get to splurge and buy a decent meal that night!

Now I’m not based abroad, but I’m sure it’s just not a problem in America as tennis often takes a backseat to sports like soccer, or whatever the national pastime might be. And maybe tennis still has that country-club image that has yet to be overcome. Granted, it is expensive to play, but so is golf and look how that fares in popularity compared to tennis.

Speaking of popularity, look at mixed martial arts. That sport is huge, and arguably, the biggest thing going. Why? All it is two athletes squaring off against each other till they knock their opponent out of the competition, with some interesting behind-the-scenes storylines adding to the intrigue.

Maybe if tennis was like that.

Oh wait…

(Photo: AP)

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