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U.S. Open Series restores order for those seeking court coverage

July 20, 2007|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Amid the David Beckham hysteria -- will he play in Saturday night's exhibition or not? -- is plenty of legitimate sports competition on television this weekend.

There's the British Open, for one thing, and it's getting blanket coverage on ABC and TNT. If you're really into it, you can get up at 3 a.m. Sunday to begin watching final-round coverage on TNT. ABC picks it up at 5.

Closer to home is men's tennis at UCLA, which ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel are televising. The Countrywide Classic marks the start of the six-week, 10-tournament U.S. Open Series leading up to the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 27 at Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

This is the fourth year of the series, and it is doing what it's designed to do -- providing television viewers with some semblance of order.

NFL viewers know there are games on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. With the U.S. Open Series, viewers know they can watch tennis finals beginning Sundays at 2 p.m. over the next six weeks.

The Countrywide singles final will be on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. Sunday and the doubles final will be on the Tennis Channel at 5.

"What we have now is appointment television," said Arlen Kantarian, chief executive for the USTA, which oversees the series that combines ATP men's tournaments and WTA women's tournaments.

Also, to generate interest, the men's and women's winners of the series are eligible to win a $1-million bonus if they also win the U.S. Open. Reaching the final is worth a $500,000 bonus.

"Other sports have a regular season that leads up to a championship," Kantarian said. "That's the idea here."

Then why not use the series to seed players competing in the Open?

"That's a great question, and something we are looking into," Kantarian said.

The other L.A. stop for the series is the WTA East West Bank Classic at the Home Depot Center the second week of August.

All told, ESPN2 will devote 92 hours of coverage to the series, with the Tennis Channel having more than 100 hours of live and same-day coverage.

"It's been a great partnership, with the real winners being the tennis viewers," Tennis Channel Chief Executive Ken Solomon said.

ESPN and the Tennis Channel are now partners in cable coverage of the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. It's feasible that the two networks could also be partners in the cable rights to the U.S. Open after 2008, when USA Network's deal expires. Certainly, the Tennis Channel figures to be involved, since the USTA is a minority investor in the network.

Where's Faldo?

It's not easy keeping up with Nick Faldo. Formerly employed by ABC, Faldo is now with CBS and the Golf Channel. But, barring an unlikely recovery, he'll be sitting alongside Mike Tirico and Paul Azinger during this weekend's British Open coverage on ABC. Although he is playing in the tournament at Carnoustie, he doesn't figure to make the cut after an opening-round 79. Before moving to CBS, he arranged to work the Open for ABC.

Faldo, who turned 50 Wednesday, will play in his first senior event at Muirfield next week. He's also the European Ryder Cup champion, is involved in designing golf courses on six continents, plans to also get involved in resort management, and is launching a new line of clothing in Britain. On top of all that, he has his own brand of Australian wine, which recently began selling in the U.S.

Like father, like son

Working ABC's coverage of the Open as a producer is Chris Ohlmeyer, son of legendary sports producer Don Ohlmeyer. And the senior Ohlmeyer was a mentor to Chris Carmody, who is producing TNT's Open coverage.

More on Beckham

ESPN was planning all along to televise the Galaxy's exhibition match against Chelsea FC Saturday night, whether Beckham was planning to play or not. If he does play -- it could be a game-time decision -- true Beckham fanatics who have broadband service on their computers can watch a constant stream of him via "Beckham Camp" on ESPN360.

Beckham's first MLS game with the Galaxy is to be Aug. 5 at Toronto, and FSN West has the TV rights. A spokesman said ESPN is seeking to work out a deal to share coverage of that game and future ones. But Steve Simpson, FSN West general manager, said he hasn't heard from ESPN.

The exclusive rights to the Galaxy's game on Aug. 9 at DC United belong to ESPN, which will show the game on ESPN2. Five of the Galaxy's 20 remaining regular-season games are scheduled to be televised on ESPN2 and 10 on FSN West.

Fox Soccer Channel, which will televise three Galaxy games, on Wednesday will begin televising "David Beckham's Soccer USA," a 13-show series.

NBC's one-hour special, "Victoria Beckham: Coming to America," on Monday night attracted only 5.1 million viewers. A repeat of ABC's "Wife Swap" won the hour.

Short waves

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