Tennis Prose



Tennis “love” mentioned by 70s game show host live on air!

By Scoop Malinowski

The Buzzer network shows old episodes of the Match Game, a very popular game show in the 1970s, the game features contestants trying to match answers given by celebrity panelists to fill-in-the-blank questions.

On an episode this week from 1979, the host Gene Rayburn revealed he loved tennis after the new guest contestant said that he was an avid player, to which Rayburn replied on live television, viewed by multi millions of Americans, “I love the tennis game, I wish I could get good at it. You have to play all the time to be good.”

Rayburn’s tennis love affirms just how popular and fascinating America was by tennis in the late 1970s when Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis, Roscoe Tanner, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin ruled the roost.

The value of such spontaneous free advertising for tennis must have been enormous – and a form of excellent promotion the sport rarely gets today.

The best ratings this version of Match Game saw were in the 1975–76 season when it attracted a 12.5 rating with a 35 share, larger numbers than that of some prime-time TV series. Match Game surpassed records as the most popular daytime program ever with a record 11 million daily viewers.

The fortunes of the show, which was televised in the afternoon, took a wrong turn when it was rescheduled in the morning to replace another show. This move lost many student viewers who could no longer watch because of school. When the show was moved back to afternoons, the student audiences did not return and the show eventually was cancelled in 1979.

Gene Rayburn was born in Chicago in 1917 as Eugene Peter Jeljenic, he was of Croatian heritage. In an episode of the game show in 1974, Rayburn spoke Serbo-Croatian with a contestant on the air and noted that he can speak the language because his parents were born there.

Is there any doubt at all that if Gene Rayburn and the Match Game were popular today, he would be a fan of Novak Djokovic and he would find a way to mention the Serbian super champion somehow on the show?

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