sketches of the open's humble broadcasters

Those of us neither out in Flushing, nor subscribers to extremely high-end satellite packages with live feeds, are ultimately resolved to endure CBS’ weekend coverage. As green as TTC proved to be in covering their inaugural slam at this year’s French Open, one perversely hopes that they’ll gain enough leverage to buy out CBS’ Open contract.

NBC is not without substantial guilt for its own slam (RG and Wimbledon) coverage, but the combustible pairing of a major network and its home (okay, American) slam leads to far too much spoon-feeding of emotion and drama, akin to the worst of a Hollywood movie.

We as viewers are savvy enough to bring our own sense of meaning to any given match or storyline (and, if there isn’t one, then we can always fast-forward). Serious tennis fans can really do without the amped-up graphics, schlocky promos, and sentimental broadcasters, not to mention the three-to-one ads-to-tennis ratio.

It was quite a jolt adapting from USA’s coverage to that of CBS': what with the eye strain adjustments to deal with all the bleached out and overly sunlit footage. (Can’t they just use the same filter that USA does?)

And whoever decided to greenlight those pre-match interviews should be hung.

Hey, at least the CBS commentators are a relatively known bunch.

  • Bill Macatee — basically innocuous, with an even more sterilized persona than on USA.
  • Mary Carillo — she’s her usual effervescent and laugh-happy self, a solid and colorful voice, if at times a bit too harsh. (It’s hard to erase the memory of her referring to Davydenko, back when he was ranked #3, not only as “the most anonymous #3 player in the world ever,” but also as “a total mook”.)
  • John McEnroe — Mac has become familiar enough in the booth that he’s not too hard to tune out, or at least tune down. Mac can bring brilliant analysis to the table for any given match, which he deserves credit for, but his overall vibe gets watered down by an ego untethered and run amok. Somehow the CBS dynamic doesn’t allow him quite the forum for inevitable self-aggrandizements.
  • Patrick McEnroe — P-Mac’s commentary is overall equal to John’s, if only because he’s more consistent and doesn’t indulge in his own accomplishments (perhaps just a function of having far fewer than his brother?). His pairing with Mac for the Nadal-Tsonga match was both fun and efficient. His broadcast voice has come off as a bit thinner than it has on ESPN.
  • Ian (pronounced EYE-en) Eagle — not only a capable but even an enjoyable play-by-play guy; newest to the team. It’s a shame he’s been relegated to something of a transition host with minimal air time.
  • Dick Enberg — give this guy an opportunity to sentimentalize, and he’ll take it and run. He’s actually a fine commentator, but over the years most of us have gotten more our fill; and, within the confines of CBS (Enberg joined ESPN’s Aussie Open coverage last year), it all feels just that much more mainstream.

Up next: a look at USA Network’s coverage.

(photo by artnwine1)

Michael Shaw is currently following the Open from his couch on the West Coast.

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"dangerous" to whom?

Is it just me, or is anyone else getting a little sick of hearing commentators use the word “dangerous”? As in: “This guy is a really dangerous player,” or “She’s a really dangerous floater in the draw.”

Here’s my beef: clearly “dangerous” is a subtext for “this player could wipe out a seed,” and that could be disastrous. Why? Well, it would mean there’s one less popular player in the draw; and the following round’s match-up might not have the same buzz (Masha vs. Peer sounds better than Radwanska vs. Peer, right?), which would adversely affect ratings. That, in turn, could lead to losing ad revenue and even whole accounts, which could lead to admen/women losing out on performance bonuses.

So let’s just agree that when a commentator calls someone a “dangerous” player, they’re just saying that some ad wonk won’t be getting a flat screen upgrade if said player wins.

Michael Shaw is currently following the Open from his couch on the West Coast.

>> TSF’s u.s. open coverage

DVR-ing the Open

If, like me, you’re trying to catch as much tennis action from the U.S. Open as you can, I hope that you have joined the DVR age (and I hope, for your sake, that it’s not TiVo, with all its cutesy sound effects and its attempts to predict what you’ll like).

Pre-DVR, I spent far too many late Augusts whiling away the day into the night in front of the TV. I muted the commercials and pretended to be getting something done during those three-to-five minute lulls. (Sure, I taped many matches on VCR, but the longer you recorded, the worse the playback quality, and so ultimately that route just wasn’t meant to be.) These days, life during the Open has become blissfully controllable and streamlined, and not a moment too soon: is it just me, or are the commercial breaks getting a little more dense, and a little more frequent every year?

Here are a few great revelations that have sprung from the use of a DVR:

  • You needn’t watch every point of a match.
  • Watching for the next appropriate stopping point at 300x speed hones your vision.
  • Commercials. No, but thank you.
  • You can halve (or even third) your overall viewing time.

For seamless DVR viewing — in which you’ll be able to fast forward through not only commercials, but also promos, mini-drama biopics, and pre-match interviews — here’s a good rule of thumb: allow a lead time of 45 minutes to one hour if you’re watching USA Network coverage. Allow three hours if it’s on CBS.

Michael Shaw is currently following the Open from his couch on the West Coast.

>> TSF’s u.s. open coverage

making the cut

Michael Shaw shares his memories of the U.S. Open’s qualifying tournament

Ten years ago, Aussie Pat Rafter won the U.S. Open men’s title, defeating Canadian-turned-Brit Greg Rusedski in four sets. Though Rafter was known as a very talented player and received ample attention going into the Open that year, he certainly wasn’t among the favorites. Frequently self-aggrandizing commentator John McEnroe made the mistake of calling Rafter a “one slam wonder” after his win. Rafter responded by dominating the following year’s summer hardcourt season, taking titles in Montreal and Cincinnati before winning his second Open title (over Mark Philippoussis). As it turned out, those two U.S. Opens were Rafter’s only slams, though he did make the finals of Wimbledon, also in consecutive years. This past summer he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

As the landscape of the game has shifted over the last decade, it’s highly plausible that Rafter will be the last unheralded player to win a men’s slam title. OK — if not that, then at least the last winner of a Slam who had at some point in his career played in the qualifying of the same event. In 1993, during Rafter’s first year with a full schedule on the tour (he turned pro in 1991), I was able to see him play the qualies — the tournament of 128 players competing for 16 spots in a tournament’s “main draw”.

[Read more…]

Why Roger Federer is the best player ever to swing a racquet, even if he never wins the French

As Wimbledon commences today, and Roger Federer walks out to defend his title, which if he does would make it five straight — equaling Bjorn Borg’s five in a row from ’76-’80 — there will still be some scattered chatter about Federer’s place in tennis history. With the French Open title still eluding him after this year’s loss to Rafael Nadal, his one and only nemesis, the pundits (it’s specifically the ones on the telly that I’m thinking of), in their infinite wisdom, will hesitate bestowing him the honor of “Greatest of All Time”; the talking heads currently believe that Australian Rod Laver currently holds this distinction.

Many would argue, myself included, that this year was Federer’s best opportunity to win at Roland Garros: he’d had two past experiences of playing (and losing to) Nadal on this big stage; he was in perfect health and relatively fresh; and he got a confidence boost by beating Nadal on clay for the first time, in the final of the ATP Masters event in Hamburg the week prior to the French. But all that wasn’t enough to overcome Nadal.

Even with this most recent loss, there’s no question that thus far Federer is the greatest, and here’s why: he is and has been dominant in a field of insane depth, on all surfaces except for one, one which is being dominated by the greatest player to ever play on that surface.

Allow me to elaborate…