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By Randy Walker

@TennisPublisher

 

There was a lot of talk and many words written about this year’s French Open marking the 30th anniversary of Yannick Noah’s historic victory at the 1983 French Open. However, there wasn’t any talk about another significant anniversary of a Roland Garros victory that many may smirk as being even more unlikely as a home-born French Open champion.

It was 20 years ago in 1993 that the tennis world changed the way it was perceived and how it was covered and marketed, although no one really knew it at the time. The unlikely and irreverent pair of brothers, Luke and Murphy Jensen, battled their way from being journeyman doubles specialists to being arguably the most popular players in the game at the time.

The unlikely run of the rag-tag underdog team, with their refreshing irreverent demeanor, mixed with youthful enthusiasm, high-fiving and chest-bumping after winning big points, became the feel-good story of the French Open that year. The brothers beat, in succession, the impressive teams of Karel Novacek and Michael Stich, Henri Leconte and Goran Ivanisevic, Stefan Edberg and Petr Korda to reach the final, where they beat another unlikely pair, David Prinosil and Marc Goellner, the German team who had beaten the greatest team of the generation, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, in the semifinals.

Their victory over Goellner and Prinosil, capped with a jaw-jamming chest bump from the two brothers, was shown on NBC television in the United States and struck a chord with a segment of fringe tennis fans. With their rock-n-roll personas, dubbed as “Grunge Tennis” by tennis legend and commentator Vitas Gerulaitis, and pushed mainly by their mother Patricia, the brother’s media Q-factor sky-rocketed. Their popularity and way of conducting business ushered in an era of increased player participation in the promotion of the pro tennis and caused for a spike in non-tennis media covering – and being pitched – to cover the sport with more enthusiasm and frequency.

“After winning the French, we are meeting with People magazine, Rolling Stone and all sorts of publications and media, but, in particular, these were non tennis publications,” Murphy Jensen said earlier this year at Georgia’s Sea Island Resort, where he now serves as director of tennis. “It was kind of revolutionary. The general public media embraced us first and then the tennis press followed suit.”

The win by the Jensens came at a time when the popularity of tennis was on a downslide. It happened one year after the retirement of both John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, two of the most popular players in the history of the sport. It also came at a time when the top players in the game at the time were somewhat aloof to promoting the game to the best of their abilities with media interviews and availability to sponsors and fans. The sport’s environment was in such low regard that Sports Illustrated asked in its famous cover story “Is Tennis Dying?”

Pete Sampras, who was just beginning his glorified reign as the top man in men’s tennis, was not yet respected for his amazing talent. He had yet to lay out his legacy as one of the two or three greatest players ever and was labeled as boring and uncharismatic. Other top players rarely did anything more than post-match press or many promotional obligations, kids clinics or sponsor events unless pushed to an extreme or contractually obligated.

“After we won the French, Luke, who had been kind of a journey man, said, ‘I am going to sign every autograph and shake every hand and thank every tournament director from here on out,’” said Murphy. “He kind of foresaw what we could do with this.”

So when media, particularly non-tennis media, wanted to do tennis segments, most of the top pros would beg off and not participate in the selling of the sport. Enter the Jensens.

“We were doing all of the things that the top guys wouldn’t do,” said Murphy. “We were willing to do the kids clinic and sign the autographs and do the sponsor stuff and go to the radio shows early in the morning even though we had a match that day. We did the late night talk shows and the afternoon lunches. We were willing to do all the stuff that the top guys weren’t willing to do. They were too focused on their game. When you have NASCAR drivers that are willing to do an interview before they drive 300 miles per hour for 200 miles, we knew we could do it too.”

The Jensens went the extra mile to sell the sport and work with tournaments and promoters to sell tickets, while increasing the value of their unique brand. The Jensens always participated in “Kids Day” events and, in a way, became a driving force behind many tournaments instituting such programs. As a result of their increased media exposure, their aura and popularity began to grow and their bank accounts swelled with sponsorships and added income opportunities. The brothers popularity dictated that they play their matches on the center court at tournaments, rather than the outer courts. They were in the highest of demand for exhibition matches and, according to Murphy, they became the first doubles team to receive appearance fees at tournaments. While the tennis industry would in general not be as cooperative to non-tennis media, the Jensens, more or less, paved the way for tennis marketers to be more proactive in selling tennis to non-tennis and non-sports media. Fellow players, seeing the increase in popularity – and money-making opportunities – that the brothers enjoyed, soon followed suit.

Perhaps the high-water mark for the Jensens came at the 1995 US Open when US Open tournament director Jay Snyder scheduled the Jensen brothers to play their first and second round doubles matches as the second match during the popular night sessions at the tournament. The matches were played in from of an imbibed New York crowd with USA Network showcasing the brothers to a national TV audience.

When the Jensens reached the round of 16 of the tournament that year, their match against Patrick McEnroe and Jared Palmer was promoted and aired as a feature match during the Labor Day weekend coverage of CBS national television in the United States, an unprecedented moment for doubles.

“Winning the French wasn’t the big deal, the 1995 US Open was,” said Murphy. “We give Jay Snyder a lot of credit for putting us on stadium court during those night matches. Pat O’Brien with CBS also gets a lot of credit too. He pulled the trigger putting us live on CBS.”

In front of a standing-room-only crowd on the Grandstand court at the USTA National Tennis Center, then the No. 2 court at the facility, the Jensens, wearing USA Soccer outfits by Adidas to cross promote with the World Cup that year, were defeated by McEnroe and Palmer in straight sets.

“We never lost a match at night at the US Open,” quipped Murphy. “But we couldn’t win a match during the day.”

Murphy laughs when he recalls the pre-match pep talk he and his brother received from John McEnroe in the locker room before their French Open doubles championship match against the German team on June 5, 1993, one day before D-Day, commemorating the 1944 U.S.-led invasion of German-controlled France in World War II.

“He was going banana town,” said Murphy, “The Germans were sitting right across from us in the locker room and it was the day before D-Day and he was screaming at us that we have to take these Germans and push them back like they did on the beaches of Normandy.  He was like ‘Murphy. You’ve never played the French Open before. Just keep doing what you have been doing!” And I just was looking and seeing John McEnroe in front of me and thinking ‘Why are you yelling at me? I have to play a match in five minutes.’ But, seriously, it was so cool that McEnroe would take the time. He was commentating the match with Bud Collins and to take the time and hang out with us was awesome.”

It seems only appropriate that on the 10th anniversary in 2003 and the 20th anniversary in 2013 of the Jensens’ 1993 Roland Garros victory that another set of American brothers, Bob and Mike Bryan, would also win in Paris. While the Bryan Brothers are most noted from their chest-bump victory celebration, it was a move they perfected after learning it from the Jensens.

“We are big fans of the Jensen brothers,” Mike Bryan said recently. “They really helped make tennis cool. We kind of emulated those guys.”

“We were playing against them in exhibitions when they were juniors,” said Murphy of the Bryan Brothers. “In my opinion, they are the best team ever. They are better looking. They play better music. They have a band. We had a band. But they can actually play.”

While the Jensens will not go down as Hall of Famers based on their on-court careers, their impact on the game still resonates today. The brothers went on to win three more ATP doubles titles before retiring, but they continue to promote the game in many different avenues. Both brothers are still favorites among corporate brands to promote and activate their message at tennis events. Luke served in several stints as a television commentator and his now the head women’s tennis coach at Syracuse University. Murphy had a successful run as a television host on Tennis Channel and coaches the Washington Kastles team in World Team Tennis. The two brothers also work for the prestigious Sea Island Resort in Georgia – Murphy serving as director of tennis and Luke serving as the touring professional.

“All of it was insane. The whole bloody ride,” said Murphy of his tennis career. “I got to live the dream. If I could imagine what a rock stars life was like, I got to do that with a tennis racquet. Our whole success was based on “daring to be different” playing outside of the box and being really big fans of the game.”

 

Murphy and Luke Jensen

Murphy and Luke Jensen



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About Admin
Randy Walker is a communications and marketing specialist, writer, tennis historian and the managing partner of New Chapter Media – www.NewChapterMedia.com. He was a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Tennis Association’s marketing and communications division where he worked as the press officer for 22 U.S. Davis Cup ties, three Olympic tennis teams and was an integral part of USTA media services team for 14 US Opens. He is the author of the books ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY and THE DAYS OF ROGER FEDERER

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