Will the 2008 US Open be one to Remember?

The US Open kicks off today in New York.  The tournament, which is traditionally the second most popular and important grand slam event, has several intriguing storylines.  In analyzing the top 5 seeds, as well as one other popular player, Spock.com looked at some of the people search figures surrounding the tournament to see which players would generate the most interest should they reach the finals.

For the men the top five seeds and a “wild card” are:

For the women the top five seeds and a “wild card” are:

With television ratings down for sports in general, finals match ups are critical in attracting fan interest.  Last year’s finals ratings, despite featuring both number one seeds, declined 17%  for the men and 18.8% for women from 2006.  With the men’s side having a larger discrepancy than the women between the top three seeds and the rest of the field (in terms of talent and popularity), the men could see an even steeper decline in ratings, should the top seed not advance to this years final.

Overall the women’s side featured several surprising search figures.  On Google, the search volume index indicated that Ana Ivanovic was by far the most searched individual, posting an index score of 38.  The next closest was Serena Williams with an index score of 22 (surprisingly, her sister Venus Williams posted an index score of 12).  Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva were the least searched individuals posting index scores of 1 and .6.

On Spock.com, there was a similar search discrepancy to Google, where 33% of the women’s tennis searches were for Ivanovic, 27% were for Serena Williams, 26% were for Venus Williams, and 10% for Jankovic. Among news stories and blogs, Ivanovic was the most blogged about individual with 11,241 postings over the past month, however Serena has been featured in the most news stories over the past month with over 14,500 articles.  Once again last years US Open finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva were the least discussed individuals.

With the absence Maria Sharapova (who is out with a shoulder injury) and a bracket that would pit the two most popular individuals (Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams) in the semi finals at the very latest, the women’s final may once again fail to capture signifcant fan and media interest.  However, with a reasonable fan following, should Jelena Jankovic and either Ivanovic or one of the Williams sisters make the final, the women’s side will not be forgotten.  With Ivanovic, Jankovic, Serena and Venus WIlliams, having active modeling and sponsorship deals, they are likely to attract interest from non traditional tennis audiences.  Still, the lack of a compelling rivalry, and the fact that the Williams sisters can not meet in the finals (they’re in the same bracket), means that without Ivanovic the women’s side may once again fail to provide a compelling match up.

Within the men’s bracket,  Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer led every single search category by a wide margin.  A Google search volume index for the past three months, showed Federer posting an average of 1.1 and Nadal an average of 1.01.  Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick were the next highest individuals with an average search index score of .26 and .23.  Fifth seeded Nikolay Davydenko was the least searched individual, posting an index score of .01.

On Spock.com, Roger Federer remained the most popularly searched male tennis player, with 38% of tennis related searches.  Nadal was the next closest individual with 32%, and Roddick third with 17% of tennis searches.

In terms of news and blog activity over the past month, both Nadal and Federer were about even, with a combined 180,000 new stories and blog posts.  Djokovic, was the next most discussed individual with around 22,000 news stories and 17,00 blog posts over the past month.

With most tennis fans hoping to see a Wimbledon rematch, a Federer vs Nadal finals would be ideal for fans and ratings.  While Novak Djokovic or a surprise appearance by Andy Roddick would stir some interest,  there would likely be another ratings slip should only one or neither Nadal and Federer make the finals.  Unfortuantely, it looks as though this may be the case.  For Nadal, who won the gold medal in Beijing and has been playing incredible of late, historically the US Open has been one of his worst events where he’s never made it past the quarter finals.  For Federer, who has won the past 4 US Open’s, he’s coming off an unusually poor year and has not performed well as of late.

By the end of tournament, perhaps a dark horse candidate will emerge and sweep the tennis community by storm. Unlike other tennis tournaments, the US Open is one that can create exposure to a person like no other.

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