ESPN Has U.S. Open Tennis Rights In Pocket: Report

ESPN2 may finally fully justify its use of the sobriquet, “the grand slam network.”

Tennis Week, citing sources, is reporting that ESPN has reached a rights deal for the U.S. Open tennis championships, beginning in 2009. The story didn’t disclose the length of the contract or the attendant rights fee.

ESPN officials said no deal had been struck, but that it was “still in negotiations” with Open rights-holder, the United States Tennis Association. 

A USTA spokesman said: "We don't have a cable deal for the 2009 U.S. Open. We continue to have conversations with numerous parties about the cable package."

Sources in the TV sports community indicate that Tennis Channel, partly owned by the USTA, could also wind up with a "significant presence" at the Open with live cablecasts into the next decade. A Tennis spokesman would only say "we're in discussions with the USTA."

Comcast Corp.-owned Versus is also said to be on the negotiating court.Versus officials didn’t return calls by press time.

ESPN2 recently reached a six-year renewal pact for Wimbledon for multimedia rights. It also presents live match action from the Australian and French Opens. The Bristol, Conn. sports behemoth, which elected not to renew tennis contracts for Davis Cup and Masters series tournaments, gained access to the French via an alliance with Tennis, through which the dedicated service, was given match coverage rights Down Under. For its part, Tennis has also gained Wimbledon match rights.

USA Network, the long-time cable carrier of the U.S. Open, will televise this year’s Grand Slam event from Flushing Meadows, before leaving the game. USA, cable’s top player in primetime, also moved away from its coverage of The Masters, after a quarter-century run, as ESPN made its debut with golf’s first major earlier this month.