Serena Williams fell at the penultimate hurdle on her quest for the calendar slam, losing in the semifinal of the U.S. Open to Roberta Vinci, an unseeded, unheralded, Italian journeywoman.
ESPN is wallowing in the aftermath with absolutely no perceived spike in ratings for the final in which two Italian women not even ranked in the Top 25 squared off. Flavia Pennetta took the crown that most of us felt certain would be resting on Serena’s head at the end of this weekend.
Winning three out of the four calendar Grand Slams is an achievement, Serena can regroup and make a run at Margaret Court’s all-time slam record of 24; her 21 puts her one behind Steffi Graf on the all-time slam list. Her 2015 will be tainted just a tad, but she did complete the Serena Slam by winning the 2014 U.S. Open, followed by the 2015 Australian, French and Wimbledon.
The NFL equivalent here is the 2007 Patriots run at perfection, an attempt to eclipse the 1972 Miami Dolphins feat of 17-0; the Cheatriots lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl. It happens to the best of them. She could be at this cusp again next year, but clearly ESPN won’t be so gung-ho next time around.
Within an hour of Williams’ upset, that lack of enthusiasm manifested itself on secondary-market ticket websites like StubHub, where tickets to the women’s final were on sale for as little as $25. Before her defeat, the tickets were going for more than $1,440.
Quantifying ESPN’s revenue loss in terms of actual dollars due to Serena’s shocking upset would require an economist or at least an MBA candidate. It comes down to Nielsen ratings and advertising dollars, and according to Max Willens of the IBTimes, “Typically what happens when a network under-delivers on audiences is rebates are paid to advertisers.”
ESPN earned a 4.8 Nielsen rating for the Venus vs. Serena quarterfinal matchup. Their overall rating for the broadcast of 2.7 was their second-best tennis rating of all time, followed only by a 3.1 for the 2012 Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer Wimbledon final (Deadline).
Completing the Grand Slam on home soil would have been a sublime moment for Serena, but while Serena claimed that pressure was not a factor, many are speculating that nerves undid the 21-time slam champion. As per ESPN: “No. I told you guys I don’t feel pressure. I never felt pressure. I never felt that pressure to win here.”
But contrary to Serena’s statement, the statistics tell a different story. Benjamin Tom, a Los Angeles-based analytics expert ran some numbers for clutch moments in the Vinci match (first-serves for “tight shots,” unforced errors, third-set numbers, etc.) as compared to previous matches. Serena saw a decline in all categories versus Vinci.
As per Tom, “She exhibited all of the signs of a player who is feeling the pressure. Her racket speed seemed to come down, and her movement fell off. Overall, the numbers from this semifinal are quite remarkable.” (ESPN)
Serena could still outdo Court, give the young lady some rest.