Do you really, really want to watch major-tournament tennis?
Do you want to set aside two weeks of the calendar to watch this marvelous sport, referred to by many of its best chroniclers as “boxing without the blood”?
Advice and pointers will be found in this brief viewer’s guide to the 2014 Roland Garros event, which is just beginning to swing into action.
Let’s start with the basics.
First, courtesy of Tennis Panorama News, one of the better aggregators of tennis information on the web and Twitter, here is the U.S. television schedule for the tournament.
You will notice that the programming guide refers to “live” tennis in a number of spots, including the second men’s semifinal on Friday, June 6. That’s not inaccurate information. East coast viewers — and very possibly, Central time zone viewers as well — will be able to catch that second men’s semifinal live, after The Today Show, which NBC steadfastly protects on an annual basis.
However, that information — while accurate — is incomplete. It doesn’t apply to the entire United States. NBC’s treatment of The Today Show as an essentially sacred object means that the taped airing in the Mountain and Pacific time zones will prevent those Americans from seeing the second men’s semifinal live. This is longstanding NBC practice at Roland Garros. Viewers in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, and other Western cities were unable to see last year’s second men’s semifinal live. David Ferrer’s win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga occurred in a television black hole for a large chunk of the country.
One more note about “live” tennis: You’ll note that the schedule referred to “live” tennis yesterday, the first Sunday of the tournament (May 25). NBC showed roughly 20 minutes of live tennis… and then spent the rest of its three-hour window airing taped portions of matches played earlier in the day by Roger Federer, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams.
NBC and the French Tennis Federation (referred to in France as the Federation Francaise de Tennis, or FFT) agreed to a new contract in which more hours were to be devoted to live tennis, chiefly the women’s semifinals on the second Thursday of the fortnight-long tournament. Yet, the definition of what is and isn’t “live” remains unclear. More importantly, many Americans are still not able to receive live coverage on NBC. The problem rooted in The Today Show for the men’s semifinals will very likely exist for the women’s semifinals the day before. Be emotionally prepared to face that reality, and feel free to let NBC know what you think when the tape-delay monster strikes.
The one difference between women’s semifinal Thursday and men’s semifinal Friday is that on Thursday, ESPN2 will cover both women’s semifinals, with or without NBC’s coverage. For the men’s semifinals, Tennis Channel gets the first semi live at 7:10 a.m. Eastern. NBC has full rights to the second one, with ESPN2 out of the picture. NBCSports.com might offer live streaming of the second semifinal, but a live TV broadcast is likely to be tough to access in the Mountain and Pacific time zones.
You might already sense a key point of emphasis in this viewer’s guide: Be emotionally ready to expect deficient handling of situations, especially to the extent that NBC is involved (with the exception of the live broadcasts of the singles finals on Saturday, June 7, and Sunday, June 8).
On the middle weekend of the French Open (the middle Saturday and Sunday), it has been a frequent policy in the recent past for NBC to embargo matches with top players such as Maria Sharapova, the Williams Sisters, and others. This move prevents Tennis Channel from showing those matches live in the day’s early window (5 a.m. to noon Eastern time). When NBC comes on at noon (Saturday) or 1 p.m. Eastern (Sunday), it airs the embargoed match, banking on better ratings than a live match if that live match doesn’t offer superstar names.
This is a television viewer’s guide, yes, but the reality of following the French Open (due to its affiliation with NBC, the network that loves to tape delay matches) is that you’ll want to have ESPN3 and other live streaming options, such as the Tennis Channel’s offerings, handy. This is the world we live in, a world Dick Ebersol has created. Be ready to adjust to it, and make online streaming a part of your viewing experience if you need to watch tennis on a screen of some sort. If you can’t watch tennis, don’t give NBC the satisfaction of watching its tape-delayed broadcast; you encourage the continuation of a bad practice by doing so.
Here’s the final part of the viewer’s guide: Identifying when your favorite player will be playing over the course of the next two weeks.
The order of play for Monday, May 26 is here. Why is this significant? The first round of Roland Garros is stretched across three days. If your favorite player didn’t play on either Sunday or Monday, that player will play on Tuesday. Four stars in tennis — Ana Ivanovic, Li Na, Andy Murray, and David Ferrer — will play on Tuesday, because they weren’t found on either Sunday’s or Monday’s schedules.
Here’s the other key piece of information to digest: Sunday’s play featured players from only one half of the draw. Those players will play their second-round matches on Wednesday, while the other half of the draws will then move to Thursday for the second round. This shapes the schedules for the rest of the fortnight.
Here’s a brief summary, then, for players that many tennis fans will want to see:
Maria Sharapova and the Williamses will play Wednesday (second round), Friday (third round) Sunday (NBC, fourth round), Tuesday, Thursday (semifinals), and Saturday (final).
Ivanovic and Li Na will have a Thursday-Saturday-Monday-Wednesday-Thursday-Saturday path.
For the men, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Milos Raonic will have a Wednesday-Friday-Sunday-Tuesday-Friday-Sunday path.
Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, and David Ferrer will have a Thursday-Saturday-Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday path.
Plan accordingly, and enjoy the next two weeks of major-tournament tennis.