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By Lawrence Jeziak
02/01/2003

As the self-proclaimed “world-wide leader in sports,” with three 24-hour-a-day stations, ESPN should be expected to set a standard for excellence with its Australian Open coverage. While its 75 hours of coverage from Melbourne Park in 2003 began with great promise, the result was far less than a broadcasting masterpiece.


Inexplicable programming changes, a preponderance of taped matches during the second week and unprecedented waves of irrelevant commentary dulled spectacular moments of on-court drama.

The pattern of inattention and indifference emerged on the tournament’s second day with live coverage beginning at 9:30 p.m. (EST) and the promise to feature Lleyton Hewitt. Serena Williams’s first-rounder with Emilie Loit preceded it. When the top women’s seed needed two hours to win a surprisingly competitive three-set match delivered in its entirety, ESPN cited “time constraints” preventing it from continuing and returned to regular programming. Hewitt won in five sets.

The most dramatic TV tennis people saw, before Serena Williams’s resurgent semifinal with Kim Clijsters, occurred on day seven. Live coverage began at 10 p.m. with Justine Henin-Hardenne leading Lindsay Davenport 7-5, 4-1 in a fourth-round match-up that preceded the featured Andre Agassi match. The women’s encounter seemed to be decided. But Davenport ran off 10 of the next 12 games and was serving at 4-1 in the third when momentum shifted again. Henin-Hardenne leveled the set, but at 7-7 collapsed with cramps. Still, she recovered to win 9-7 in a three-hour battle.

In contrast to day two, ESPN stayed on the air for the featured match. But this was Andre Agassi, whose fans were consistently rewarded. All seven of the champion’s matches were presented in their entirety; six were shown live. ESPN’s large ever-present logo could have read, “Agassi Open 2003.”

Andy Roddick’s 21-19 five-set, five-hour quarterfinal victory over Younes El Aynaoui – declared to be a “match for the ages” – was shown to its finale and almost immediately scheduled for rebroadcast as an “instant classic.” But the nine-hour delay of the initial presentation diluted much of the drama, characteristic of ESPN’s second week of coverage.

ESPN’s schedule promised live coverage on all broadcasts beginning between 9:30 and 11 p.m. That promise was repeatedly broken. Without explanation, taped presentations replaced live coverage. Of eight quarterfinal matches, only Agassi’s was presented live. ESPN ignored Rainer Schuettler’s upset of Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian – in the second set when ESPN’s coverage began at 10:30 p.m. – in favor of two earlier women’s matches, delivering them as if they were live.

Since other logos cluttered the screen throughout the tournament, this TV tennis junkie asked why viewers weren’t advised they were watching taped tennis. The initial response from an ESPN spokesperson was, “Announcements at the beginning of the coverage, as well as coming back from commercial breaks, let viewers know it is taped programming.” Informed that the Clijsters and Serena Williams quarterfinal contained no such announcements, ESPN’s response shifted to “programming that is not labeled as ‘live’ is taped.”

The larger question, of course, is why taped tennis? In the 21st century it is ridiculous to present matches after the fact. Venus Williams’s fourth-round match was shown on 19-hour delay. And the men’s semifinals, presented live in 2001 and 2002 and initially scheduled for live coverage in 2003, were delivered on a 12-hour delay.

While trimming live tennis from its schedule, ESPN’s commentary crew approached the size of the candidate pool for the Democratic presidential nomination. ESPN employed eight commentators and used six for each match: three in the booth, one at courtside, two more on the terrace. The troupe established new levels of verbal assault with few contributions of wisdom or insight.

Mary Carillo, for example, while noted for a refreshing sense of humor, showcased a collection of predictable puns and worn references to “Big Babe Tennis.” Her commentary was particularly ragged during the women’s semifinal when she was reduced to babbling that Serena Williams’s game had lost its “gregarious” quality and looked “constipated.”

Mary Joe Fernandez, with a stoicism suggesting an oncoming root canal appointment, talked faster as the tournament progressed – as if a crew member was playing practical jokes with her teleprompter.

Cliff Drysdale continued in his role as the most opinionated and inattentive commentator in tennis by repeatedly misstating information about matches and scores. Upon going to commercial at 6-5 in the third set of Serena Williams’s opening match, Drysdale asked, “There was a tiebreak in the second set. Are we headed for one in the third?” On returning, Drysdale corrected himself, saying that the U.S. Open is the only Slam where tiebreaks are played in ultimate sets.

An exchange between Chris Fowler and Pam Shriver during the women’s doubles final quickly deteriorated into a low-brow reinvention of Who’s-on-First. Following up on Shriver’s comment regarding a doubles strategy where one player squats at net in the center of the court as her partner serves, Fowler asked the six-foot-plus former Grand Slam doubles champ, “How was your crouch?” “My what?” replied Shriver. “Your crouch.” “My what?” Shriver asked louder. And so it went.

Fowler, a host from other ESPN shows and the one member of the corps who is not retired from the pro tennis tour, distinguished himself by providing some fresh information about the telecast. He took the time to explain the ESPN “shot spot” uses a combination of four cameras and animated graphics to provide a definitive view of balls hit close to a line.

ESPN’s progress in covering the Australian Open – significant between 1998 and 2002 – has been reversed. Once, the network at least talked a good game. But after talking over a player’s comment to the chair umpire, Patrick McEnroe asked the question of the tournament: “Why can’t I shut up?”

Indeed.

Television correspondent Lawrence Jeziak also reviews films, writes poetry and teaches courses in film and writing. He reviewed the year on television in Tennis Week’s Dec. 2002/Jan. 2003 issue.

Thank you Eurosport ;)
 

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Interesting... I gather that the reason a lot of people in NA don't like Roddick is because the networks there are always shoving his matches down their throats ahead of everyone's elses, and I suppose it was much the same with Agassi.

I sometimes wonder whether US TV's focus solely on American players is a reaction to a lack of interest in tennis over there, or the cause of it - some sports analyst once observed that to most Americans "tennis is about a bunch of guys named Fernando", but if they can't except that it's an international sport with worldwide competitors, well, what hope have they got?

On Eurosport, they had about seven commentators in total but no more than two to a match at any time. And as far as I recall, none of them ever described a player as having a "constipated game" (!), thank God.
 

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vaiva said:
ESPN’s progress in covering the Australian Open – significant between 1998 and 2002 – has been reversed. Once, the network at least talked a good game. But after talking over a player’s comment to the chair umpire, Patrick McEnroe asked the question of the tournament: “Why can’t I shut up?”

We've been asking ourselves the same thing, PMac. For years.

Eurosport
 

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Sjengster said:
Interesting... I gather that the reason a lot of people in NA don't like Roddick is because the networks there are always shoving his matches down their throats ahead of everyone's elses, and I suppose it was much the same with Agassi.

I sometimes wonder whether US TV's focus solely on American players is a reaction to a lack of interest in tennis over there, or the cause of it - some sports analyst once observed that to most Americans "tennis is about a bunch of guys named Fernando", but if they can't except that it's an international sport with worldwide competitors, well, what hope have they got?
Point #1 is exactly what happened. Rarely rarely rarely do we see a match that doesn't feature a non-American player (men or women). The only reason we saw Potato's infamous double bagel last year at Cincy was because PMac wanted a chance to drool over the latest American, Robby Ginepri (yikes! if that is the future of American tennis!!). And he was duly rewarded for it :D

I'm more inclined to believe that ESPN's shitty coverage is the cause of the lack of interest in tennis than a reaction to it. If only because I can say that TNT, which covers Wimbledon, and USA network, which covers the US Open, show more variety in their matches and usually SHOW THEM LIVE. We see more of the top players of the game, or an interesting dogfight somewhere in the wilderness of Court 22 or whatever.

I know a lot of people who were outraged (myself included) when ESPN gained rights to Roland Garros over USA network last year. I didn't see any of Guga's matches last year, and only saw the last 4 Ferrero matches, and not all of them in full. Instead we were treated to Agassi, Roddick, Williams sisters, Capriati, Seles, etc etc. If that's not enough to turn a casual fan away and make them seem ignorant about the international feel of the game, then I don't know what is . . .
 

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go Lawrence!!! does he still write his "rant" column? i used to enjoy receiving them but i haven't seen them in a while.

must say i did enjoy watching all those Agassi matches tho'. *gasp*
 

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Another fine moment of broad cast this year, was when they decided to leave coverage going in order to show us Mardy Fish tank his way home.

Meanwhile they spent the whole time going on about that "fabulous, high quality" match that was apparently going on between Ferrero and Fabrice Santoro.

I say "apparently" of course, because it's hard to be sure for all the coverage that they showed of it.


Anyways, that article pretty much sums it up. ESPN coverage is pathetic crap.
 

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What is this regular programming :rolleyes:
(Strip-Poker )??

Eurosport kicks out all the shit from its schedules :) and there's only 1 channel.
 

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AMEN!!! TO THE ARTICLE!!! :D :D

ESPN coverage is pathetic crap.
:nods head:
 

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As already adressed, the number of American sports writer who bitch about mens tennis, specifically on how the general public can't tell who is who amongst all these nameless faces - needs to start blaming the source of the problem.

The reason ratings are lower when they show somebody who isn't Andre or Andy, the reason that people don't know who these guys are, is that ESPN refuses to give them any exposure whatsoever.

I would think that any writer worth a dime would realize that. Yet every month or so, another article pops up, crying about the boring mens game, and when are the new crop of Americans going to "take over", so that we don't have to deal with these "nobodies" anymore?

I'm not suggesting that ESPN start showing us all the matches of Sluiter or Koubek - but there is something seriously wrong when my friends who watch tennis with me sometimes have to ask me who Hewitt is :rolleyes:
 

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Eurosport is pretty good and Sky is great as we get interactive coverage of MS events and the US Open. meaning a choice of courts. It's even better when Timbo and Greg are out as we get to see the decent players:D
 

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Of course, my above point could be entirely incorrect, and the reasoning could simply be that Americans are unable to appreciate international sports (see: Football - as in real football, not the poorly named melon throwing sport) - but I'd really like to give them more credit than that.
 

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I really like Fox Sports Southwest (FSSW) or something like that.
They had some good covergae of one torunament (Not sure which one :eek:) I also liked the commentating.
 

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very true Becca :)

suprised the interactive thingy hasn't arrived in the US :eek:

the only proper exciting US Sport is Hockey
others are zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
watching paint drying is alot more entertaining.
 

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Okay, another example of the shitty ESPN coverage:

ESPN has the rights to Davis Cup, but of course they only show the US's ties. So if, for example, the US flames out against Croatia, we won't get to see any more world group ties.

Last year when the US lost to France in the semis, that was the end of it. I would have killed to see the final, especially since Russia won in such a dramatic fashion. But ESPN didn't deem it "important enough" since the US wasn't going to be a factor. :fiery::rolleyes:
 

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I might point out though, that it's worse to get TSN - which is the Canadian cop off of ESPN. I'm fairly sure that ESPN owns TSN, but I'm not positive on that.

Seeing as there are advertisements for "ESPN classic Canada", and the ESPN link is on the main site, including the numerous hours of coverage that we get from ESPN - I can only conclude that it's either entirely owned by ESPN, or just the majority of it is ;)

ANyhow -

We get a watered down version of what you folks how have real ESPN get.

During the clay court masters series, we get finals live in the morning, while you guys watch them t aped - that would be about the only plus.

Most of the time we get half of the coverage that you do, and usually it turns out to be the match that I have no interest in.

Did I really need to see the meaningless Federer-Thomas J taped, and not the Agassi-Ferrero match taped?
 
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