Professional sports, as an industry, is dependent on building up the brands of certain stars in order to sell. From Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods to LeBron James, Peyton Manning and Floyd “Money” Mayweather, sports fans gravitate toward dynamic athletes with connective personalities.
Perhaps more than any other professional sport, tennis public relations and popularity lives and dies on the popularity of its top players. Duels between massive stars have always been the big ticket draw for the sport. From McEnroe, Becker, Agassi, King, Lendl and Graf to Sampras, Williams, Federer, and Nadal, generations of tennis fans have grown up cheering less for the sport and more for their favorite player.
So, when injuries sideline those pros, the sport suffers. Women’s tennis has experienced this in recent years with medical issues sidelining both of the esteemed Williams sisters. Now, men’s tennis is suffering some of the same bad news.
Recently, former tennis superstar Novak Djokovic saw his comeback from an elbow injury hit a snag when he had to withdraw from an exhibition tournament in the United Arab Emirates. Djokovic has not been on the court in a competitive match after an injury forced him to retire in the Wimbledon quarterfinal.
Months have passed, and Djokovic was supposed to be on the way to back to returning to form. But his match against Spanish pro Roberto Bautista was canceled after the nagging elbow injury did not allow Djokovic to play up to his expected standard. On his website, the tennis superstar said he was “terribly disappointed” at being “forced to withdraw.”
He added: “Unfortunately, in the past few days I started to feel pain in the elbow and after several tests, my medical team has advised me not to risk anything, to withdraw from the tournament and to immediately continue with the therapies… This might affect the start of the season and the tournament plan, but the decision will be made in the following days.”
And, at present, no decision has been made on any “new plan.” This means one of the world’s top stars may be absent when tennis’ best gather in Australia for the next major tournament on the tennis tour.
Meanwhile, the organizers of the tennis exhibition Djokovic withdrew from scheduled another former number one who has been sidelined by injury: Andy Murray.
Murray has not competed since Wimbledon due to a hip injury, and, though he has been training, is not expected to be at his best when he steps in to face Bautista in place of Djokovic.
Given all these questions about the health of some of their top stars, international tennis desperately needs an infusion of new talent and personality to recapture the imagination of their fans across the globe.