For CBS, final U.S. Open is a labor of love

Dick Enberg interviews Roger Federer. Dick Enberg interviews Roger Federer. Photo Credit: CBS / Jeffrey R. Staab

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

It started with Arthur Ashe winning the first U.S. Open in 1968, and it will end at Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2014.

"A lot of great memories here," CBS' Bill Macatee said Wednesday, standing amid the steamy bustle of another tennis afternoon in Flushing, "and very sad that this era is ending."

It is fitting that Macatee will do the honors Sept. 8 when he calls the men's final, given his nearly quarter-century association with the event, initially on USA Network, then CBS.

But he is but one of many old network hands for whom the final Open before ceding full control to ESPN in 2015 has been a wrenching experience.

"Emotionally, for a lot of people, there are some deep feelings," said Dick Enberg, CBS' lead Open voice from 2000-2011, who will call a match Sunday with analysts John McEnroe and Mary Carillo for old times' sake.

Enberg also will write and narrate a video look back at CBS' nearly five decades in Queens next weekend.

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"They've asked me to take 47 years and condense it into four or five minutes," he said. "I enjoy writing, and that'll be a nice challenge."

The move from CBS to ESPN -- which has had cable rights to the Open since 2009 -- is but the latest on a long list of sports properties that have shifted from broadcast to cable, including Wimbledon from NBC to ESPN in 2012.

This one shocked no one in the business, given the 11-year, $825-million price ESPN was willing and able to pay and CBS could not justify, given tennis' lackluster ratings and lack of American stars -- not to mention the vagaries of rain delays.

Still, while CBS' relationship with the tennis Open isn't quite as long or passionate as its one with the Masters, the next 10 days mark a historical milestone in sports TV.

When Ashe won the first U.S. championship of the Open era at Forest Hills, Bud Collins and Jack Kramer called four hours of action over two days. (Virginia Wade won the women's final over Billie Jean King, for whom the entire National Tennis Center now is named.)

Enberg called Sunday's guest gig "a chance to represent Pat Summerall and Bud Collins and John Newcombe and Tony Trabert and Tim Ryan and Bill Macatee."

"I'm honored," Enberg said. "When I've shared it with my friends, they had the same reaction: That's really great. It will be nice to hear you one more time on tennis."

Enberg, 79, who is taking the weekend off from his job as the Padres' play-by-play man, credited Collins' mentoring on tennis early in his long run calling Wimbledon for NBC.

He marvels at the fact more people he runs into tell him they miss him on tennis than on basketball or football.

"It's amazing, because I was a farm kid [in Michigan] and there wasn't a tennis court within 15 miles, and if my dad had found me with a tennis racket he'd have used it to spank my [butt]," Enberg said.

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Macatee's first big match at the Open was Jimmy Connors' five-set victory over Patrick McEnroe on USA in 1991. He said calling Serena Williams' 1999 championship for CBS his favorite Open moment.

"There was so much anticipation for the Williams sisters, so much promise," he said. "And then it was Serena, the younger of the sisters, who won the first Grand Slam. You knew there were going to be many more."

Macatee noted how far the facility and event have come since the '90s -- and in the half century since he first visited the area for the World's Fair.

"I came here as a 9-year-old and stood by that Unisphere," he said. "Now I'm working a few thousand yards away from it as a 58-year-old man. So it's kind of neat."

Enberg will try to sum it all up next weekend.

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"If somebody was writing the book, that would be 800, 900 pages," he said. "I'm going to try to do whatever I can in four minutes to pay tribute to the Open as CBS has covered it."

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