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SAUNDERS: Federer's dominance is a slippery slope for TV

It's time for the return of The Roger Federer Show on television. Like many other tennis experts, Dick Enberg will be shocked if the taciturn Swiss tennis player doesn't win his fourth consecutive U.S. Open title during the men's finals Sept. 9.
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It's time for the return of The Roger Federer Show on television.Like many other tennis experts, Dick Enberg will be shocked if the taciturn Swiss tennis player doesn't win his fourth consecutive U.S. Open title during the men's finals Sept. 9.

"I don't see anyone who can beat him. He's at the top of his game," the veteran CBS sportscaster said on the phone from New York, adding that Federer should be the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920s to win the U.S. Open four consecutive times.

And while Federer reigns supreme, Enberg notes that his dominance has rained on - and in some cases washed out - TV's ratings parade regarding tennis.

"It's kind of a Catch-22 situation," Enberg said.

"Federer is not only a superb tennis player, he's a quality human being, always responsive to fans and the media.

"He's a charming guy, although some fans probably think of him as bland. So a lot of causal tennis fans don't watch him on TV. And the fact that he's Swiss hurts audience ratings. If Roger were an American, he'd probably get the same sort of respect that goes to Tiger Woods."

Enberg also believes that if Federer were a "bad boy" like Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe, more viewers would tune in either to root against him or provide support.

Enberg sees "wide-open" competition in women's play, with defending champion Maria Sharapova battling No. 1-ranked Justine Henin and Venus and Serena Williams.

Enberg noted that audience ratings in major tournaments always increase when the Williams sisters are playing. "The court takes on a U.S. look," he said.

CBS' coverage begins Saturday and extends through the men's finals Sept. 9 - opposite the opening day of the NFL season.

That's a ratings challenge regardless of who is in the finals.

Enberg again will be working with McEnroe and Mary Carillo. In past years, the trio convincingly has proved a three-member broadcasting team can be a plus.

"John and Mary have an edgy relationship, and I'm sort of a referee," Enberg said in chuckling style. "I had the same role in the '80s working with Billy Packer and Al McGuire on NCAA basketball."

Early-round play begins at 9 a.m. today on USA cable and will continue in afternoon and evening time periods throughout the week.

PLANNING AHEAD: Fans who "enjoyed" ESPN's coverage of the Broncos-49ers preseason game can look forward to three more telecasts with Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Tony Kornheiser - Green Bay at Invesco Field (Oct. 29); at Tennessee (Nov. 19); and at San Diego (Dec. 24).

AROUND THE DIALS: Joel Klatt, former University of Colorado quarterback, has a full football plate on FSN Rocky Mountain this fall. He'll provide commentary during coach Dan Hawkins' weekly news conferences (taped for Tuesday night telecasts, beginning Sept. 4) and will offer pregame and postgame analysis during Saturday's CU-CSU game from Invesco Field.

Klatt and Alfred Williams will analyze games during FSN's six-week high school schedule, which premieres Sept. 20 with Mullen vs. Cherry Creek. Tim Neverett will handle play by play.

Speaking of Neverett, his voice as the morning talk show host on KCKK-1510 AM remains silent. Mile High Sports Radio, which premiered July 30 as an all-sports station, was dropped from the airwaves Aug. 18 because of a contract dispute with NRC Radio, owners of the outlet.

Mile High Sports was scheduled to purchase the station, which has reverted to its "classic country" music format.

There is no indication when or if the deal will be consummated.

The college football season officially kicks off Thursday, highlighted at 6 p.m. by Louisiana State-Mississippi State on ESPN. Other games, at 5 p.m.: Buffalo- Rutgers (Altitude) and Tulsa- Louisiana-Monroe (ESPN2).

To prepare you for the season, ESPN (5 p.m. Wednesday) is offering a 24-hour marathon-style preview of the college season.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO? Tony Zarrella, former controversial KMGH-Channel 7 and KUSA-Channel 9 sports anchor, now is an anchor-reporter for WOIO, the CBS affiliate in Cleveland.

Although he didn't make the trip to Denver on the weekend, Zarrella is scheduled to be on the road with the Browns during the regular season.

The 43-year-old Zarrella, who left Denver in May 2005 following a bitter contract dispute with Channel 9, attended law school for a year in San Francisco before returning to broadcasting.

Zarrella, who has admitted to once having a serious substance abuse problem, said in an e-mail: "Life is great. . . . I'm a happy man again."

Dusty Saunders writes periodically about sports broadcasting. Contact him at tvtime@comcast. net.