Friday, August 14, 2015

The bad boy who saved college tennis

May 25, 2021 (St. Louis, MO) - The University of Colorado men's tennis team today won its first-ever national title in front of a record crowd of 75,000 and a television audience estimated in the tens of millions with a 4-0 win over the University of Virginia. The Buffaloes capped off an historic run in which it took out some of college tennis' most storied programs in increasingly spectacular fashion, featuring several defaulted matches and what observers are calling "the most epic brawl in sports history."

The secret of CU's success? It's very simple: controversy.

The University of Colorado didn't even field a men's tennis team for a decade after the decision was made to eliminate the program in 2006. But then in 2016, college tennis changed its rules to not only allow, but encourage trash talking between players on court. Almost immediately, TV ratings spiked as audiences tuned in to NBC's "Tennis Night in America" every Thursday to see the latest jawing between players about such topics as their significant others, their race/religion/sexual orientation, and any other topics players could think of. The filthier the better. Nothing was off-limits.

And clearly, it was good for the game.

Sensing an opportunity, the CU athletic department reinstated their program and recruited relatively unknown junior players who made up for in creativity what they lacked in ability. Their #1 player for the last four years has been Alabaster Corningwell III, a player from Newfoundland who had never won a single junior tournament, but whose profane tirades went viral and gained him worldwide attention, but caused him to be defaulted from dozens of matches.

Once he arrived to Colorado, what had been a liability turned into a major asset for the 5'6" Canadian as opponents frequently found themselves distracted, annoyed, and unable to match his constant barrage of insults. Of course, television and social media couldn't get enough of him. Where it had previously been unheard of for shows like "Pardon the Interruption" or sites like TMZ to pay attention to college tennis, all of a sudden Corningwell was leading off their shows on a daily basis, with untold hours of airtime spent arguing whether he should be punished for his degrading words or exalted for his flashy personality.

Ultimately, Corningwell's critics fell silent and college tennis entered its first-ever golden era. Soon every team in the Pac-12 - and eventually throughout Division I tennis - brought on at least one "bad boy" to help bring fans to seats and eyeballs to screens. But CU head coach Bobby Malone always was able to stay one step ahead of the game, and within two seasons he had a roster full of players who were expert in humiliating their opponents to the point where they tended to double fault every point, clearly with the aim of trying to win points by hitting the CU players with their serves (a tactic that seldom worked).

Eventually, the popularity of this new-look college tennis forced the NCAA to move the national championship games out of its traditional sites at college tennis facilities and into football stadiums.

Professional tennis has taken note: Wimbledon has promised Corningwell a wild card, the #1 seed, and eight-figure guarantee if he will play The Championships this year, but the lefty is carefully considering his options. If CU can convince the NCAA to change its rules and allow Corningwell to play a fifth year, there's no telling how high his asking price will be come 2022.

Of course, not everyone in the notoriously blue-blood world of tennis has warmed to Corningwell. "He's over the top, if you ask me," said current ATP #1 Nick Kyrgios. But there's no arguing with money. CU has added hundreds of millions of dollars to its coffers over the past four years thanks to men's tennis, rescuing sports like football and basketball. And it's all thanks to one provocateur.

He's definitely good for tennis.

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