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.
Tuesday, 7:01 a.m. ET: ESPN officially devotes a 30-minute block to talk and previews from 6:30 to 7. All the TV schedule guides for Wimbledon indicated that from 7 a.m. onward, ESPN’s coverage block for live tennis would begin. Yet, on this Tuesday morning, ESPN airs more anchor-desk talk for quite some time. This becomes a relatively normal procedure for much of the week.
Despite the beginning of live tennis just after 6:30 a.m. Eastern time (11:30 a.m. in suburban London on the grounds of the All-England Club), ESPN regularly stuck with studio analysis and commentary, plus features and other content, well past 7 a.m. on most days during week one. ESPN’s time block for live tennis is supposed to begin at 7 Eastern, but the network generally didn’t start to cover live tennis in earnest until 7:30 or thereabouts over the course of the week.
Tuesday, 7:33 a.m. ET: Only now, after a second half-hour of talk, does ESPN switch from gabbing to live tennis.
7:47 a.m. ET: Having shown the end of the second set of the match between Stan Wawrinka and Joao Sousa, ESPN quickly shifts to the end of the second set of the match between Kenny De Schepper and Kei Nishikori, with Nishikori serving at 5-6.
7:59 a.m. ET: Nishikori wins the second set. ESPN switches to a match between Andrea Petkovic and Katarzyna Piter, with Petkovic two points from the match at 5-4, 30-30, in the second set.
8:09 a.m. ET: After Petkovic wins, ESPN switches to the conclusion of a suspended match (from Monday) between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jurgen Melzer, with Tsonga serving for the match at 5-4 in the fifth set.
8:17 a.m. ET: Tsonga wins. ESPN switches to the second-set tiebreaker in a match between Lleyton Hewitt and Michal Przysiezny.
9:20 a.m. ET: ESPN shows a blowout, with Roger Federer leading Paolo Lorenzi, 6-1, 4-1. Meanwhile, Lleyton Hewitt’s match moves to the fourth set at 3-2 against Przyziesny. Richard Gasquet and James Duckworth begin the second set of a relatively close match (Duckworth won the first set, 7-6). Hewitt and Gasquet are both playing on TV courts, just to be clear.
9:30 a.m. ET: ESPN sets up Rafael Nadal’s match against Martin Klizan, clearly opting for superstar-centric treatment of the day’s play during this period of time, rather than catching segments of matches available for TV coverage on non-show courts.
9:53 a.m. ET: ESPN shows Federer-Lorenzi with Federer leading by two sets and 5-2 in the third. Meanwhile, Nadal-Klizan is early in the first set, with the match in a crucial period (Nadal having just fended off a fourth break point to hold for 2-1).
10:04 a.m. ET: Federer’s match ends.
10:08 a.m. ET: After four minutes of showing Federer’s post-win reaction and talking about the match, ESPN then shows a BBC interview of Federer. All this is happening during the close first set of the Nadal-Klizan match, which was viewed as a competitive match in light of the fact that Nadal had failed to get past the second round in each of the past two Wimbledons, losing in the first round last year.
10:10 a.m. ET: ESPN finally gets back to Nadal-Klizan at 4-3 in the first.
11:59 a.m. ET: ESPNEWS, now covering matches with ESPN carrying the World Cup, misses almost all of the first three games of the fourth set of Nadal-Klizan, catching only the 40-15 point at 1-1. Nadal wins the point to take a 2-1 lead. ESPNEWS goes to commercial.
Approx. 3:05 p.m. ET: In a manner similar to the handling of the Federer match conclusion a few hours earlier, ESPNEWS sticks with the end of a match between Simona Halep and Teliana Pereira, with Halep leading by a set and 5-1 in the second set. A long game ensues, though, so ESPNEWS winds up staying with that match while Ana Ivanovic and Francesca Schiavone play in the middle of a much closer second set, with Ivanovic leading 4-2. At 3:10 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS comes back from the changeover at 5-2 Halep to show the end of that match while Ivanovic-Schiavone stands at 4-3 in the second.
Wednesday, 7:50 a.m. ET: After showing Venus Williams win the first set of her match in a tiebreaker, ESPN goes to the end of the second set of the match between Ernests Gulbis and Sergiy Stakhovsky, with Stakhovsky leading 5-3 and Gulbis serving. Stakhovsky wins the set, 6-3. ESPN then shows match point of Li Na’s second-round win and goes back to the Venus match afterward.
8:28 a.m. ET: After Venus wins her match, ESPN goes to the end of the third set in Gulbis-Stakhovsky, with Gulbis serving at 4-5.
Approx. 8:35 a.m. ET: During a stretch of several minutes, ESPN focuses on the Gulbis-Stakhovsky tiebreaker but ducks in quick, well-timed live look-ins to first-set conclusions in matches involving Andy Murray and Agnieszka Radwanska. The timing of these switches is carried off with the precision one would expect from America’s foremost live-game sports broadcaster.
9:08 a.m. ET: With Murray leading the second set of his match by a 5-0 score, ESPN stays with the second set of his match instead of going to Court No. 2, a TV court, where Vera Zvonareva and Tara Moore are locked in an extended third set, with Zvonareva leading, 7-6 (no third-set tiebreaker at Wimbledon).
9:17 a.m. ET: With ESPN airing studio analysis and commentary, Zvonareva wins the match, 9-7 in the final set. Moreover, the result (again, on a TV court) comes and goes without even a taped highlight. Zvonareva, it’s worth mentioning, was a Wimbledon finalist in 2010.
Approx. 9:30 a.m. ET: ESPN switches from the Murray blowout and goes to the third-set tiebreaker between Jeremy Chardy and Marinko Matosevic.
10:09 a.m. ET: ESPN moves away from a lopsided match between Grigor Dimitrov and Luke Saville to show the end of the fourth set of Chardy-Matosevic, with Matosevic serving at 5-4.
10:28 a.m. ET: ESPN shifts from the lopsided Dimitrov-Saville match (two sets to love) and moves to the third-set tiebreaker between Tim Puetz and Fabio Fognini.
10:58 a.m. ET: ESPN goes to the conclusion of the Chardy-Matosevic match at 6-5 in the fifth set. Chardy finishes the match by breaking Matosevic’s serve and winning the final set, 7-5.
Approx. 11:05 a.m. ET: ESPN catches the end of the Puetz-Fognini match with Fognini up 4-2 in the fourth set and leading two sets to one.
11:36 a.m. ET: ESPNEWS, on the air at 11:30, switches from the Novak-Djokovic-Radek Stepanek match (3-2 in the first set) to the match between Bernard Tomic and Tomas Berdych, with Tomic leading 5-3 in the first.
12:11 p.m. ET: After showing the conclusion of the first set between Victoria Azarenka and Bojana Jovanovski, ESPNEWS moves to the conclusion of the second set of the Berdych-Tomic match. (Berdych is up, 5-4, with Tomic serving.)
12:42 p.m. ET: Azarenka goes up 5-2 in the second set of her match after losing the first set. ESPNEWS goes to commercial instead of showing David Ferrer serving at 2-4 in the fifth set against Andrey Kuznetsov.
12:45 p.m. ET: ESPNEWS gets to Kuznetsov-Ferrer at 5-2, 30-love. Kuznetsov wins the match in under 30 seconds.
12:53 p.m. ET: ESPNEWS, with Azarenka and Jovanovski just starting the third set of their match, goes to the third set of Berdych-Tomic, tied at 3-3 in a match that’s one set apiece.
12:56 p.m. ET: Coming back from commercial, ESPNEWS goes to the third set of the Djokovic-Stepanek match, in which Djokovic leads two sets to love, abandoning both the late-third-set portion of Berdych-Tomic (a match tied at one set apiece) and the final set of Azarenka-Jovanovski.
1:09 p.m. ET: ESPNEWS gets to the Berdych-Tomic third set with Berdych facing set point for Tomic, serving at 5-6, 15-40. ESPNEWS stayed with Djokovic-Stepanek through the seventh game of the third set, with both players on serve and Djokovic leading by two sets. A reminder: Berdych and Tomic split the first two sets, making their third set that much more critical when compared to Djokovic-Stepanek.
1:20 p.m. ET: After Berdych wins the third set in a tiebreaker, ESPNEWS goes to the Azarenka-Jovanovski match, with Jovanovski leading 4-3 in the third.
1:30 p.m. ET: Azarenka holds to bring the third set of her match to 5-5. ESPNEWS moves to the third-set tiebreaker between Djokovic and Stepanek (2-1, Stepanek).
Thursday, 7:50 a.m. ET: ESPN airs a second feature piece on the upcoming match between Rafael Nadal and Lukas Rosol, which it establishes as its centerpiece of day-four coverage at Wimbledon. The attempt to hype the Nadal-Rosol Wimbledon rematch takes precedence over airing the continuation of the day’s first set of matches, which began on the outer courts at their normally scheduled time, just after 6:30 a.m. Eastern.
Approx. 8:25 a.m. ET: ESPN moves to the first set of Serena Williams’s match against Chanelle Scheepers.
8:37 a.m. ET: ESPN goes back to Nadal-Rosol with the first set even at 4-4.
10:25 a.m. ET: Nadal and Rosol play a compelling match. After Nadal takes a two-sets-to-one lead, ESPN cuts to the fifth set of the extended match between Richard Gasquet and Nick Kyrgios at 7-7, 30-30. Gasquet fends off a break point to hold for 8-7. Coming back from commercial, ESPN stays with this match as Nadal breaks to take control early in the fourth set.
Approx. 10:40 a.m. ET: Kyrgios wins the match, 10-8 in the fifth. ESPN goes back to Nadal-Rosol.
Friday, 7:32 a.m. ET: This had already been documented earlier in the Tuesday section of this report, but it’s worth noting again later in the week: ESPN, according to the report of a viewer, talks about upcoming matches instead of showing live tennis, affirming the network’s decision to continue its half-hour “pregame show” (from 6:30 to 7) into the block allotted for live tennis, starting at 7:
8:57 a.m. ET: The third seed on the women’s side, Simona Halep, wins her match on a TV court, 6-4 in the third set, but ESPN stuck with a match between Novak Djokovic and Gilles Simon (the first set) all the way through the concluding sequences of the Halep match. ESPN shows a taped highlight of Halep winning match point at 5-4 in the third.
9:08 a.m. ET: ESPN does cut away to the end of the first set of the match between second-seeded Li Na and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, with Li serving at 5-6.
9:21 a.m. ET: After Zahlavova Strycova wins the first set, 7-6, ESPN goes to the end of the second set in a match between Jerzy Janowicz and Lleyton Hewitt, with Janowicz serving for the set at 5-4.
9:23 a.m. ET: Janowicz serves out the set, 6-4, and ESPN goes back to Djokovic-Simon.
9:37 a.m. ET: After Djokovic wins the second set, ESPN looks in at various matches: Li Na’s match; a match between Lauren Davis and Peng Shuai; a match between Kevin Anderson and Fabio Fognini.
9:58 a.m. ET: With Li in a dogfight late in the second set, ESPN goes back to Djokovic-Simon, with Djokovic up by two sets and on serve at 3-2 in the third.
10:01 a.m. ET: Djokovic injures himself, and ESPN stays with the story on court instead of going to commercial or to another match.
10:18 a.m. ET: ESPN goes to the third-set tiebreaker between Janowicz and Hewitt, at 3-2 for Janowicz.
10:24 a.m. ET: ESPN quickly catches the live match point in Djokovic-Simon, as Djokovic wins.
10:26 a.m. ET: Hewitt takes the third-set tiebreaker, and ESPN shows it.
10:27 a.m. ET: ESPN gets to a second-set tiebreaker in Li-Strycova, at 5-5. The network successfully caught two match points and a set point, all live, within a matter of three minutes.
11:08 a.m. ET: ESPN, having shown the first several games of the match between Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova, moves to the fourth set of the Janowicz-Hewitt match, with Hewitt serving and having set point at 5-4, 40-30.
11:10 a.m. ET: Hewitt wins the set, and ESPN goes back to Venus’s match against Kvitova.
11:28 a.m. ET: Venus wins the first set, and ESPN goes to a first-set tiebreaker between Grigor Dimitrov and Alexandr Dolgopolov.
11:35 a.m. ET: ESPN airs a brief feature on Venus Williams… while her match is continuing early in the second set (1-1).
11:37 a.m. ET: ESPN goes back to coverage of Venus’s match.
11:40 a.m. ET: Janowicz serves for the match at 5-3, and ESPN goes there.
11:44 a.m. ET: After Janowicz wins, ESPN goes back to Venus and Kvitova.
12:03 p.m. ET: Venus holds for 5-4 in the second and goes to sit down at the changeover. ESPN doesn’t go to commercial. It shifts to Dimitrov-Dolgopolov with Dimitrov serving at 5-4.
12:05 p.m. ET: Dimitrov gets to 40-30, but Venus-Kvitova resumes, and ESPN goes there with Kvitova serving at 4-5, 15-all.
1:34 p.m. ET: With Dimitrov and Dolgopolov in a fifth set, ESPN shows the very start of the match between Andy Murray and Roberto Bautista-Agut.
1:44 p.m. ET: Dimitrov quickly pulls away and wins the fifth set, 6-1, while Murray and Bautista-Agut arrive at the first changeover of their match. ESPN shows only match point for Dimitrov at 5-1, 40-0.
3:17 p.m. ET: After Murray wins his match, Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych remain on court in the last singles match of the day. Yet, ESPN goes to the studio desk for commentary instead of live singles tennis. ESPN had shown the first-set tiebreaker of the Cilic-Berdych match a bit earlier.
3:23 p.m. ET: ESPN goes to Cilic-Berdych with Cilic leading 5-3 in the second set.
Saturday, 1:03 p.m. ET: After rain suspended play for non-Centre Court matches, play resumes. Roger Federer takes a 3-0 lead on Santiago Giraldo in the Centre Court match, and ESPN moves to Serena Williams’s match against Alize Cornet at 2-1 in the first set.
1:15 p.m. ET: With Serena rolling to the first set, 6-1, ESPN goes back to Federer-Giraldo at 4-2, 30-0.
1:17 p.m. ET: ESPN goes to Serena-Cornet, with Cornet having held serve to start the second set.
1:20 p.m. ET: Serena loses serve to fall behind 2-0 in the second. ESPN gets back to Federer as he tries to serve out the first set at 5-3.
1:23 p.m. ET: Federer serves out the set. ESPN gets back to Serena’s match.
1:35 p.m. ET: ESPN catches the first-set tiebreaker between Milos Raonic and Lukasz Kubot.
1:42 p.m. ET: After a brief feature on Maria Sharapova, ESPN shows Serena’s match at 2-5 in the second set while interviewing Sharapova. The Serena match is shown with a large box, while the Sharapova interview is shown in a smaller box.
1:43 p.m. ET: ESPN goes exclusively to a Sharapova interview, ditching the large box with Serena’s match going on live.
1:45 p.m. ET: ESPN goes back to Serena’s match.
1:54 p.m. ET: ESPN misses the first two points of the third set of Serena-Cornet.
2:15 p.m. ET: ESPN shows the second-set tiebreak between Raonic and Kubot, starting at 4-2 (Raonic). This is during a changeover in Serena-Cornet, so live action there wasn’t being sacrificed in order to show the Raonic-Kubot breaker.
2:19 p.m. ET: ESPN goes to commercial after the end of the Raonic-Kubot tiebreaker, instead of going straight to Serena-Cornet. THIS represents a sacrifice of live tennis, unlike the previous move noted at 2:15.
2:22 p.m. ET: After a brief look-in at Serena-Cornet, ESPN catches the tail-end of the match between Eugenie Bouchard and Andrea Petkovic, with Bouchard serving at 5-4, 30-0, two points from the match.
2:25 p.m. ET: Bouchard is taken to deuce. ESPN goes back to Serena, who faces break point at 2-2, 30-40.
2:26 p.m. ET: Serena saves the break point. ESPN goes back to Bouchard-Petkovic at a second deuce point in their 5-4 game of the second set.
2:27 p.m. ET: ESPN goes back to Serena-Cornet.
Approx. 3:05 p.m. ET: An important and anticipated match between 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic and 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki begins. ESPN goes to the studio for discussion and analysis.
3:20 p.m. ET: With Ivanovic and Lisicki having played three games, ESPN continues to talk in studio without showing live tennis.
3:22 p.m. ET: ESPN goes to the match between Madison Keys and Yaroslava Shvedova, with Shvedova serving at 5-6, 40-0, in the first set.
3:32 p.m. ET: The Keys-Shvedova tiebreaker ends, and ESPN goes to the fourth set of a match between Kei Nishikori and Simone Bolelli, instead of the Ivanovic-Lisicki match.
3:40 p.m. ET: ESPN cuts out of match point for Bolelli (during the actual point, it must be stated, not before the point began) to show Serena Williams’s post-loss press conference.
3:43 p.m. ET: ESPN gets back to Nishikori-Bolelli on a large screen while showing the Serena presser on a smaller screen. Nishikori saved that match point (which went unseen) and gained an early lead in the tiebreaker.
3:47 p.m. ET: Nishikori wins the fourth-set tiebreaker, and ESPN goes to a studio interview with Roger Federer.
Approx. 4 p.m. ET: ESPN goes back to Keys-Shvedova midway through the second set.
4:17 p.m. ET: ESPN cuts away to show match point between Tommy Robredo and Jerzy Janowicz. ESPN did well to get an elevated camera on that outer court. The camera clearly wasn’t in a normal position, but the network found a way to get a picture for that match, an impressive feat.
4:19 p.m. ET: Robredo wins. ESPN goes back to Keys-Shvedova, the final match of the day.
Tired? It’s hard to cover a tennis tournament in a manner that satisfies all sorts of fans. That much should be said on ESPN’s behalf. When a network pulls away from a star player’s match because other matches are closer on the scoreboard, fans of that star player get upset. Yet, many tennis fans want to see the close matches rather than a star player’s match if that star player is leading 5-1 in a set or by a two-set margin, even if the third set is close.
What ultimately emerges from week one is nothing different from what was said here during the French Open: Covering a major tennis tournament on TV requires two live channels at the same time. One channel should be reserved for superstar matches on show courts, with features and off-court commentary in between the matches. The other channel should be reserved for the quick-hitting whiparound coverage that gets to every close match at every urgent moment over the course of a day’s play. ESPN, it is worth noting, will employ this very practice Monday through Wednesday (and if the schedule is backlogged, possibly on Thursday) during week two of Wimbledon.
The next step for ESPN in 2015 — when it won’t have the World Cup to worry about — is to give two-channel coverage, on ESPN and ESPNEWS, to week one of Wimbledon. A superstar channel and a whiparound channel will solve so many of the issues and conflicts mentioned above.
What particular verdicts should be rendered on ESPN’s handling of week one?
Here are the highlights:
The network was especially strong in sticking with the Novak Djokovic injury scare on Friday. That was breaking news, and ESPN was all over it. The WorldWide Leader’s best week-one moment came at that point of its week-one coverage.
ESPN also excelled at a few points on Friday, getting set or match conclusions at three different matches within three minutes. The network’s handling of tight matches on Wednesday (around 8:30 and then 10:30 a.m. Eastern time) was also first-rate. ESPN does a far better job than Tennis Channel of shipping viewers to close matches at the ends of sets, a fundamental responsibility of a television broadcaster.
What also deserves to be said in praise of ESPN’s coverage is that it was willing on multiple occasions to break away from superstar matches to show set or match conclusions in other matches. This is not a reflexively or culturally easy thing to do, but ESPN made some strides in the right directions, particularly when it showed the end of the Gasquet-Kyrgios fifth set during the Nadal-Rosol match on Thursday. Another bold stroke by ESPN was showing Raonic-Kubot tiebreakers during the Serena-Cornet match on Saturday. Majors can’t be all about single matches. Yes, compelling feature matches ought to retain centrality, but quick look-ins of other matches at important times tell viewers that the sport, not just superstars, is what’s being covered. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Now, what about the lowlights of ESPN’s coverage from week one?
The worst mistake, by far, was interrupting a match point (in Nishikori-Bolelli on Saturday) for the start of Serena’s press conference following her loss. It can safely be said that a match point should never, ever be interrupted unless an equally or more significant match point exists elsewhere. This is not a debate.
Another particulary unpardonable move was the black-holing of one of the most anticipated women’s matches of week one, the third-rounder on Saturday between Ana Ivanovic, a major champion, and 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki. There’s no excuse for black-holing an important match. What adds to the enormity of ESPN’s error here is that Lisicki’s Wimbledon semifinal was pre-empted last year for Bryan brothers men’s doubles coverage. ESPN can’t treat an accomplished singles player and her important matches in such a fashion.
Third, ESPN twice interrupted live tennis to do live interviews with players (Victoria Azarenka earlier in the week, then Maria Sharapova on Saturday, during Serena’s match against Cornet). It’s not a close call: ESPN can run interviews when the day of play is over, or at the very least, it can show live tennis while running the audio of the live interview. This. Is. Not. Hard.
Here are a few closing suggestions for ESPN, in light of the fact that it has not yet secured a two-live-channel arrangement with ESPNEWS or one of its other secondary channels (ESPN Classic, perhaps?) for future Wimbledons:
1) Interact with viewers on social media and ask them, in the heat of the moment, if they’d prefer a cutaway to an outer-court match near the conclusion of a set. Getting live feedback at least keeps tennis fans in the conversation about when to cut away from a match and when to stick with it.
2) Be up front with viewers on the air — be candid in saying that you’re making a decision because you think it’s important. Many viewers might disagree, but if you’re more up front instead of simply making a decision in a meeting behind closed doors, you’ll win more respect, not less. This kind of candor also brings viewers to the table instead of pushing them away and making them feel smaller.
3) When you don’t show an outer-court match for the first two and a half sets (women’s tennis) or the first four sets (men’s tennis), cutting away to the very conclusion feels substantially more disruptive and disjointed. An example was the Nishikori-Bolelli match on Saturday. Had viewers gotten even a small taste of the match at earlier points, a cutaway would have seemed more natural — viewers would have felt that they were a part of the match. Cutaways to previously ignored matches upset the flow of coverage. This dynamic was also in evidence in the treatment of the Andrey Kuznetsov upset of David Ferrer, just to provide a second example.
4) Conversely, when you show an outer-court match in its earlier stages, ignoring that match in a final set rankles viewers all the more. A good example of this was the Azarenka-Jovanovski match, which was seen only in small bits during the third set. A better example was the Torro-Flor-versus-Venus-Williams match, extensively covered for much of the first two sets but then largely abandoned in the third until Venus had already made her move and was almost at the finish line.