It's taken many years, 24 to be exact, and a few knockdown, drag-out arguments between HBO executive producer Ross Greenburg and analyst Billie Jean King, but when the pay-cable channel's coverage of Wimbledon opens Monday, it will feature more women's play than men's.
"The tide has turned. This is a major turning point in tennis coverage," said Greenburg this week. "It's quite obvious that if I started slapping 90 percent coverage of men's matches, the phones wouldn't stop ringing, the faxes wouldn't stop coming and I'd be run out of the broadcast compound."
The truth of the matter is that while men's tennis continues to flounder aimlessly with hardly an interesting figure or compelling rivalry to follow, the women's game has become must-see television.
Between the dominance of reigning champion Martina Hingis, the impudence of Anna Kournikova and the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, the seeming re-start of Monica Seles' career, and veteran players of the caliber of Lindsey Davenport and French Open champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, lying in wait in the well-manicured lawns, the Wimbledon women's draw may provide some superb drama over the next two weeks.
"Women's tennis is in the best shape it's ever been in, without question," said King.
Perhaps the most intriguing Wimbledon subplot will be the return of seven-time champion Steffi Graf from knee surgery. Graf, who has missed most of the season, was given a No. 4 seed at the tournament as well as some not-so-friendly advice from Hingis that the speed of the game had increased dramatically since her absence, perhaps too much for Graf.
"Steffi Graf would not be entering Wimbledon just to be there for a week," said analyst Mary Carillo. "She's entering thinking she can come in cold and win -- and she can."
With Jim Lampley as host, HBO's coverage next week will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day with highlight shows each night at 7. King and Carillo will be joined in the analyst's spot by Martina Navratilova, Barry MacKay and John Lloyd, with Frank Deford handling essays and Zina Garrison serving as reporter.
NBC Sports has a new president, but don't be alarmed, for precious little will change.
Ken Schanzer, who has been executive vice president of the division for 13 years, was named president yesterday by Dick Ebersol, who had held that post since 1989.
Ebersol was named chairman of NBC's newly created Olympics Division in March, but that division was expanded yesterday to encompass sports as well.
As a result, Schanzer, who ran the Baseball Network and negotiated NBC's college football deal with Notre Dame, will run the sports division on a daily basis and he and executive producer Tom Roy will continue to report to Ebersol.
Meanwhile, CBS yesterday announced the hiring of Bonnie Bernstein as a reporter for the "NFL Today."
Bernstein, 27, who had been with ESPN for three years, will also report for the network's New York affiliate station. Bernstein was an academic All-America gymnast at Maryland, and got her professional start as a weekend news anchor in Salisbury.
More than a game
Sunday's United States-Iran World Cup match (Channel 2, 3 p.m.) carries an additional significance beyond a chance for the winner to advance past the first round.
The two countries' history of enmity toward each other serves as an obvious backdrop, but Iran's emergence from self-imposed exile from the family of nations could be speeded along by a victory over their sworn American enemies.
"When Iran beat Australia in qualifying after almost being out of it, the place went nuts," said Bob Ley, who will call the match for ABC. "This team could be the catalyst for the changing of a society. The fact that soccer can transform a culture is a much more intriguing story."
Tomorrow's ABC match pits the Netherlands against South Korea at 3 p.m.
Around the dial
The expansion Washington Mystics of the WNBA open their home schedule tonight against the Utah Starzz on Lifetime at 8, but they may not be the major story.
Margo Dydek, the Starzz's 7-foot-2 rookie center, can dunk, a feat that hasn't been attempted in a league game to date, and the Polish native could place her name in the history books.
"She's not dorky. She's more physical than people think and she's more mobile than you might imagine for someone her size. Plus, she seems to have a personality, which is so important on the women's side," said Lifetime analyst Meghan Pattyson.
Just before the Yankees meet Cleveland tomorrow on the Fox baseball game of the week (Channel 45, 1 p.m.), Steve Lyons will chat with former Orioles pitcher Pete Harnisch about his addiction to chewing tobacco.
Finally, CBS (Channel 13) will have the geezer tennis market cornered, with "The Challenge" matches with Jimmy Connors meeting Bjorn Borg tomorrow, with the winner facing the winner of the John McEnroe-Yannick Noah match on Sunday. Both telecasts start at 4 p.m.
Pub Date: 6/19/98