Monday, January 24, 2022

Is TV tennis ready to make the switch?



Open stance semi-western forehands, the ‘dip drive’, and Luxilon strings are important components of the modern game of tennis. Just last week, we witnessed Rafael Nadal complete the career Grand Slam. (He has won all four majors – Australian, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.) Nadel has been the leader of the ‘spin generation.’ Tennis experts theorize that his shots feature more revolutions of topspin than anyone in the history of the game.

However, when I watched the US Open tennis coverage last week, the commentators were still analyzing the game as they did ten, twenty, and thirty years ago. For example, most matches are still broken down in the same way; the main emphasis dwells on the players’ winners verses unforced errors. To be fair, I have heard Davis Cup Coach Patrick McEnroe discuss the ‘modern game’ and while on ‘air’ ask fellow commentator, Cliff Drysdale, to embrace the new game. Overall, though, I contend that the vast majority of the television tennis connoisseurs still try to explain the new game as though it is played in a similar fashion to the way the sport was played decades ago.

Modern Tennis and System Five inventor and Naples resident, Brett Hobden has initiated discussions with some of the leaders in the game to see if television tennis would consider future changes. For example, the court could be divided into five different zones and the commentators could discuss the importance of each target area. In other words, if zones 4 and 5 represent deep baseline shots and one of the combatants continually rips his balls to this target, it is clear that he will win most of the rallies. So, when we view a match with both players hitting balls near the service line, or zone 3, it will make more sense to the audience why the rallies last so long. To this point, hard hitting balls that land near the middle of the court near zones 2 and 3 fail to put pressure on their opponents and it is likely that the rally could last quite a while.

If the tennis commentators continually allude to zone placement and zone coverage, the viewer will better understand the game. If either McEnroe or Drysdale tells our viewers that Nadal is standing beyond Zone 5, it would make sense to the audience why Novak Djokovic would attempt a drop shot. Now, if our broadcast team would change their verbiage and offer the audience this new and different approach, it is possible we could attract more viewers, or at least offer a better product to our tennis fans. Presently, the only people broadcasting tennis today are former tour professionals. Ironically, the top coaches in the game are absent from our television broadcasts.

Would it be a bad idea to have someone like Brett Hobden in the television booth explaining the modern game to his audience? Could other leading tennis coaches like Robert Lansdorf (coached Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras, and Lindsay Davenport, to name a few of his prized pupils) be effective in the television booth? No one disagrees that the game of tennis has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. When we start the New Year at the Australian Open next January, I believe our television viewers would like to see many of these new suggestions help spice up the broadcasts. Let me know what you think – are you satisfied with the present format or would you like to see new ideas?

Doug Browne is beginning his 26th year as Director of Tennis at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island. He has been associated with the USPTA for 25 years, and has been playing, talking, and teaching tennis for most of his life. He may be reached at

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