Tuesday, August 25, 2009

McEnroe, Connors, Navratilova Headline Dense 2009 U.S. Open Coverage

Next week, die hard tennis fans are about to enter the euphoric state that can only be described as televised tennis nirvana.

Thanks to the USTA's landmark cable television deal with The Tennis Channel and ESPN, over 200 hours of live tennis will be broadcast (and many more taped hours as well) during the two week tournament, with an additional 435 hours coming from DirecTV's comprehensive and interactive U.S. Open Mix.

ESPN, which is making it's maiden voyage at the Open, has hired John McEnroe as it's lead analyst. McEnroe will be without his long time partner in the booth, Ted Robinson, who remains with NBC, but was not hired by ESPN (Robinson will be working on the Tennis Channel's broadcasts). Instead, the edgy American tennis icon (and 4-time U.S. Open singles champion) will be partnered with other ESPN regulars, most notably his younger brother Patrick.

ESPN's coverage of the tournament will be complemented nicely by The Tennis Channel, which has signed on with another American legend, Jimmy Connors, as it's lead analyst. Connors will be working alongside Martina Navratilova, and veteran Bill Macatee in the booth. Tennis fans can be confident that their analysts know the game - Navratilova and Connors boast a combined 26 Grand-Slam singles titles, and 9 combined U.S. Open singles titles.

"I'm excited about being part of the U.S. Open team and I can't wait to get back to New York," said Connors. "There's nothing in tennis like the U.S. Open. I'm looking forward to helping Bill, Martina, and everyone else at the network change the way the tournament is seen on television."

But many fans are lamenting the fact that USA is no longer covering the open, and for good reason: ESPN will be picking up its daily coverage of the Open at 1 o'clock - 2 hours after play has been underway. The Tennis Channel will cover the first two hours, in addition to continuing its coverage on the outer courts after ESPN picks up its coverage at 1 P.M. This seems like a neat solution but when you consider The Tennis Channels messy negotiations with a certain Cable provider, you realize that some fans will be hung out to dry for a few hours each day during week one of the Open.

Additionally, while ESPN is stepping up it's dedication to the sport, many fear that they may never recreate the charm and grassroots feel that USA imparted to its viewers with quirky on-court interviews from Michael Barkann and the very intimate "up-all-night" vibe that McEnroe and Robinson were notorious for fostering.

But for those who are fortunate enough to receive the Tennis Channel, a whole new level of comprehensive coverage awaits. Breakfast at the Open, and a plethora of match highlights and re-runs will complement the networks already intense broadcast schedule.

ESPN2's broadcast schedule will be even more intense, with its emphasis on flexibility more than ever, so that viewers can see the matches that are captivating instead of just watching whatever has been scheduled in it's entirety.

"Our Strategy is to make the viewer feel like he is at the National Tennis Center during the day session," said Jamie Reyonds, a vice president in ESPN's remote production department.

But viewers who do not receive the Tennis Channel from their cable channel may disagree with Reynolds. The two hour lapse in open coverage at the start of the day is sure to irk many viewers who are relying on ESPN as their sole provider of live match coverage during the week (CBS has the three day labor day weekend and the last three days of the tournament).

If you don't have Tennis Channel, then the truth of the matter is that you will be experiencing a downgrade of service (at least in the 11 to 1 slot) - and that's unfortunate. But Don't blame ESPN, blame the cable providers who aren't allowing you to get The Tennis Channel.

If you're like me and many others who do get the Tennis Channel, you are about to embark on a journey to the National Tennis Center without ever having to leave the comforts of your own couch. And instead of getting sunburn and paying $7 for Heineken's, you can hang out with Jimbo, Johny Mac, and Martina while drinking whatever was on sale at the local supermarket.

Between Tennis Channel, ESPN, DirecTV, CBS, and streaming video on usopen.org, their will be an unprecedented amount of tennis being broadcast beginning August 31.