Federer-Nadal is a hot-seller

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

If men's pro tennis is going to grow and flourish in North America beyond where it is now -- and there is plenty of growing to to get anywhere near pro football in the U.S. and pro hockey in Canada -- much of it will come down to how well the sport's personalities are packaged and sold.

Two bookends in the ATP's sales strategy were on display yesterday at the Rexall Centre during a pre-Rogers Cup media event.

On one hand is the rivalry between Switzerland's Roger Federer, No. 1 in ATP rankings, and Spain's Rafael Nadal, No. 2, one of the most exciting in pro sports today.

On the other, Andy Roddick's announcement yesterday that he wasn't competing because of a strain in his left side doesn't help.

Still, organizers were quick to play up the positives yesterday. And that would mean Federer and Nadal.

The two have met five times this year and, despite Federer's domination as the runaway No. 1 player, Nadal seems to have his number.

Federer won their most recent encounter -- in the Wimbledon final last month -- but Nadal holds a 4-2 lead in finals showdowns and a 6-2 edge overall.

Federer, riding a string of 48 consecutive wins in North America, is being lauded by some as the best ever.

But five years younger than the 25-year-old Federer, Nadal -- with his fist-pumping, his chiseled physique and white Capri pants -- brings a showmanship and sex appeal to men's tennis that belies an off-court humility.

Asked yesterday about the importance of selling glamour in tennis, Nadal, sheepishly, admitted: "I can't. I don't have an opinion on that. Maybe I'm a little bit shy."

Perhaps that endearing reserve, plus the squeaky clean off-court reputation of Federer, and the lack of any boorishness in their rivalry, is a reason why it should continue to capture interest beyond hardcore fans.

"I think (the rivalry) is a good thing," Federer said yesterday. "I think (the hype) is deserved. Playing back-to-back Grand Slam finals has helped that equation. He is No. 2, but he has been able to beat me more than I've beaten him."

The two play their first-round matches tomorrow.

But trying to promote pro tennis in North America with two Europeans as your selling point isn't a slam dunk. On Saturday, tourney director Grant Connell talked about the pluses in having the No. 10-ranked Roddick, perhaps the most marketable American-born player, playing here, to help overcome Andre Agassi's withdrawal last week.

Yesterday, it was a different story.

"I knew his injury was still an issue," Connell said.

Still, ticket sales are up 20% from last year's men's event in Montreal, he added.


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