Here at Attacking The Net, it’s important to document, instance by instance – for better or worse – the way in which tennis broadcasters cover the major tournaments. We did this in our debut at Roland Garros a few weeks ago, so we’re definitely going to do so again for Wimbledon.
Roland Garros, as diehard American tennis fans know, is the worst-covered major due to the fact that coverage rights are split so widely among Tennis Channel (the main rightsholder), ESPN, and NBC. Wimbledon offers a cleaner and better situation because ESPN is the sole provider of live tennis. Tennis Channel offers extended coverage as well, but only in taped and packaged segments once ESPN’s live coverage comes to a natural conclusion with the arrival of darkness each night at the All-England Club.
Middle Sunday – though a terrible thing when Saturday matches aren’t completed – does provide an easy opportunity for tennis fans to read about week-one events at Wimbledon. Here is the account of how ESPN and its family of networks performed over the past six days. Remarks on ESPN’s performance will come at the end of this piece, following all the documented decisions below:
Monday, 7:29 a.m. ET: Upon trying to watch Wimbledon, a black screen is encountered by this viewer (on Comcast in Seattle). A few other viewers reported the issue, but it did seem to be minimal and localized, not pervasive. ESPN checked internally and did not report a wider problem.
8:03 a.m. ET: I still have a black screen in Seattle. Meanwhile, viewers in other United States locales report that ESPN ditched live tennis to talk about Andy Murray.
8:09 a.m. ET: After a delay of roughly 40 minutes if not more, ESPN finally shows live pictures again.
8:44 a.m. ET: ESPN switches from a lopsided Andy Murray-David Goffin match to show Victoria Azarenka serving at 4-3 in the first set against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
8:53 a.m. ET: With Azarenka having won the first set, ESPN moves to other matches and shows Tomas Berdych fending off break point in the third set of a close match (one set all) against Victor Hanescu.
8:55 a.m. ET: ESPN goes to the Murray-Goffin match early in the second set.
9:05 a.m. ET: ESPN shows the end of Marinko Matosevic’s win over 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Fernando Verdasco.
9:23 a.m. ET: After the end of the second set in Murray-Goffin, ESPN goes to the end of the second set of Azarenka/Lucic-Baroni, with Azarenka serving at 3-5.
9:36 a.m. ET: With Azarenka and Lucic-Baroni at a changeover at 6-5 in the second set, ESPN moves to Berdych-Hanescu again, with Berdych two points from the match. A long multi-deuce game ensues, though. Berdych wins the match, and ESPN returns to Azarenka’s match seconds later with Lucic-Baroni down 30-40 (match point), having just saved one match point at 15-40.
Approx. 10:35 a.m. ET: ESPN shows the first-set tiebreaker between Grigor Dimitrov and Ryan Harrison.
11:02 a.m. ET: ESPN moves from Venus Williams’s match against Maria Teresa Torro-Flor to show a crucial sequence in the first set of the match between Li Na and Paula Kania, with Kania serving at 5-4.
11:04 a.m. ET: Li breaks for 5-all, while the Venus/Torro-Flor match goes deep into the second set. Yet, ESPN carries an on-camera interview with Victoria Azarenka, refusing to show video of live tennis while simply carrying the audio of the Azarenka interview.
11:08 a.m. ET: ESPN goes to Venus/Torro-Flor at 4-all in the second set. It does not show the end of the Li-Kania first set (won by Li, 7-5).
11:23 a.m. ET: Torro-Flor wins the second set to force a third against Venus. ESPN goes to the second set of Li-Kania, with Kania serving at 1-2.
11:28 a.m. ET: With Venus and Torro-Flor in the third set of their contentious match, ESPN stays with Li, leading by a set and a break.
11:31 a.m. ET: With ESPNEWS picking up coverage from ESPN due to the World Cup, Li takes a 4-1 lead. ESPNEWS goes to the Dimitrov-Harrison match, with Dimitrov up two sets and 4-1 in the third. The Venus match, which had been close and compelling, is not picked up.
11:40 a.m. ET: ESPNEWS’s broadcast takes care to note that the Venus match is being carried on the ESPN3 live-streaming service. The relegation of an in-demand match (among tennis fans) to a streaming-only outlet replicates the Tennis Channel model from the French Open.
11:44 a.m. ET: ESPNEWS finally goes back to Venus/Torro-Flor, with Venus leading 4-2 and love-30 on Torro-Flor’s serve. Venus breaks just seconds later – the decisive stage of the match, when Venus pulled ahead, was not shown on live television.
11:51 a.m. ET: Venus closes out the match, 6-2 in the third. The drama of the third set was denied U.S. television viewers in favor of relatively routine straight-set matches (Dimitrov d. Harrison and Li d. Kania) that were not particularly close in the final sets.
ESPN’s handling of Venus Williams’ first-round match on Monday made no sense. It was a lowlight of ESPN’s week-one coverage… but not as bad as interrupting a match point for a press conference.