Netflix Break Point

In hopes of renewing interest or onboarding new fans to some sports, there has been this push by some organizations to seek out their own version of Netflix’s Drive to Survive as the docuseries did its part to bring new followers towards Formula 1 racing. The first and most hyped of these aspirant clones focuses on tennis and was created by the same team as Drive.

Break Point on Netflix was supposed to serve as both an entry point for unfamiliar fans and a sweet reward for the sport’s most passionate fans. Mimicking Drive to Survive for intimate dives into other sports is not a misguided idea as it inspired viewers to start watching or reconnecting with F1 in a way that no other documentary series or film has done for a sport. Creating Break Point to act as a sibling of sorts, if not a franchising of the Drive concept, should have worked for the ATP and WTA as tennis and F1 have overlapping footprints. With elite talents and alluring personalities, both sports have global fandom and major sponsors that pay big money to connect with moneyed fans and athletes.

And yet it was a challenge to get past the first episode of Break Point because even with the intimate nature of the format, the series felt all too familiar.

Far too often, the show felt too much like your typical ESPN, NBC, or Tennis Channel broadcast instead of the fly-on-the-wall approach a docuseries of this nature promises.

The allure of Drive, at least here in the United States, is that outside of the most diehard fans of motorsports, we largely didn’t know who these racers were before. Even someone such as seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is a relative enigma to the American sporting public despite being one of the rare athletes who has crossover appeal around the globe.

Despite the candid conversations in the arenas and away from the court that Break Point gave us, we came into stories we already know or at least can easily infer. Nearly everything we saw from the matches featured in the show is things that we see when the matches are televised live. Watching tennis on TV means that we see all of what makes tennis such a compelling, but frustrating game. We not only see the breathtaking athleticism and intellect of these players, but we witness the hostility between players and line judges, the give-and-take with talkative fans, and the tantrums that can be celebrated for some and condemned for others.

To that point, the match film itself was dripped with the familiar critical tones that are the basis of tennis coverage. Arguably no other major sport is as steeped in a corrosive commentary of its athletes as tennis. While criticism and outright hatred are ingrained in sports coverage, your average tennis broadcast spends most of its time focused on the raw emotions of the athletes, with questions about their mental fortitude and abilities to handle the pressures of the game. The initial episode of Nick Kyrgios is the perfect example of how the show gave us few new insights on what makes him the most polarizing player in the sport, and it didn’t dive deeply into how the ATP and tennis media take advantage of his petulant moments.

Some will point to the supposed lack of star power as a reason why Break Point hasn’t resonated, but that feels too simplistic. For a myriad of reasons, Netflix’s sports documentaries outside of Drive seem to come in as quickly as they’ve arrived in recent years, including the 2021 miniseries on one of tennis’ biggest stars in Naomi Osaka.

That in and of itself dovetails into another reason why Break Point seemed to land with a thud: there isn’t the same fervor for tennis in the middle of winter as there would be in warmer seasons. Yes, January is a loaded month for sports between the NFL playoffs and subsequent Super Bowl, the NBA and NHL seasons hitting their halfway points, and college basketball starting to ramp up towards March Madness. And in the past when the stars properly aligned (read: when Serena Williams played), the Australian Open would be boosted alongside those other events. Yet with the matches taking place during waking and working hours in the US, it’s already hard for the year’s first Grand Slam to capture our attention, and Netflix doesn’t send reminders to watch the live events that inspire its content.

Perhaps this is why the first run of the series has been split into two parts, with the first five episodes having been released before the Australian Open and the second set dropping prior to Wimbledon in June. Yet just like in linear television, it’s incredibly rare that a series can retain its audience through a break in the season, especially if it’s a program that stumbled out of the gates.

Drive to Survive succeeds because Formula 1 itself has a nearly perfect mix of conditions that can’t be replicated for other sports, even if the fourth season (covering the 2021 campaign) felt a bit rushed to capitalize off the drama between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Open-wheel racing is one of the most dangerous sports there is, with the premier events taking place in some of the most idyllic locations on the planet. Throw in the personalities and pettiness of the drivers and team directors, and you have something that is every bit as entertaining as the messiest reality shows and as profound as the grittiest of scripted dramas.

Between the ATP and WTA, the respective groups for men’s and women’s tennis, the sport has some of the same attractants that make F1 such a global powerhouse. While nobly aiming to lure in new fans and excite the diehards, Break Point tried to give us much of the same energy as Drive, but the series fell short in giving us something new to say.

About Jason Clinkscales

Jason Clinkscales is a NYC-based editor and writer, as well as founder of The Whole Game. Formerly a research analyst for several media companies, he's a regular contributor for Decider, and was the editor-in-chief of The Sports Fan Journal. Jason holds out hope for a New York Knicks championship and the most obnoxious parade in human history.