The team covering this year’s buzzy U.S. open brought a renewed aggressiveness to the annual Grand Slam tournament by quickly jumping on, reporting and filing the interesting, quirky angles outside the lines of the matches, and in the process expanding the audience far beyond just tennis and sports fans.
It’s part of a new direction in AP Sports that seeks to tailor coverage of major sporting events for the social media age, with quick recognition and filing of highly viral, shareable moments and angles that transcend the sports audience and, in turn, draw eyeballs back to the stellar AP stories and analysis about winners and losers of the actual matches.
Howard Fendrich, Brian Mahoney and James Martinez more than met that mandate.
Fendrich, AP’s tennis writer who has traveled the world covering major events for more than two decades, gave the AP team its marching orders. The two-week run of the tournament also included deeply reported takeouts that met the mandate, including an AP analysis in coordination with the climate team on how global warming is causing temperatures to rise at the U.S. Open and other Grand Slam events — a story that was refired last week during the hottest days of the tournament. And one story looked at an environmental issue most tennis players know nothing about, the difficulty of recycling tennis balls that sends nearly all of the 330 million balls made each year into the garbage, and most to landfills where they can take more than 400 years to decompose.
Outside-the-lines, quick-hit stories and accompanying AP social media posts included: Barack and Michelle Obama making a surprise appearance to watch Coco Gauff and to honor Billie Jean King, an unruly fan yelling Nazi slogans at a German player, and environmental protesters disrupting a key women’s match, including one who glued his feet to the stands, among many other stories.
The approach paid off. The three most-viewed stories from the U.S. Open on AP News were the ones about the climate protest, the fan ejected for using Nazi language, and a marijuana story in which a player described a pot-shrouded court as “smelling like Snoop Dogg’s living room.” All three had very high search numbers, showing this was not just because they were prominently placed on AP News, but rather because audiences were looking for them.
For strong coverage of the U.S. Open that provides an example to emulate in coverage of other major sporting events, the team of Fendrich, Mahoney and Martinez earns the Best of the Week — Second Winner.