I realize that tennis is not a wildly popular sport. It definitely has its fans, though, from die-hards to the when-there’s-nothing-else-on occasional viewers (for the record, I’m in the former category). Like other sports, it has its big events that draw in even the casual viewers, in this case, the Majors (or Grand Slams– the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open).
Tennis and other marginalized sports are stuck in a kind of Catch-22 for television coverage. They don’t have the popularity to warrant extensive program time, but they lose some of their potential audience through lack of exposure. That’s not the worst of it, though.
When tennis is aired on television, it seems we get the For Dummies version. For fans like me, who have resorted to choppy online video streams from Russia to get live coverage, it’s the yammering that is unbearable. Commentators will repeat an anecdote as if it were a child’s favorite bedtime story. The story of how Rafael Nadal is naturally right-handed but plays left-handed is the tennis equivalent of Goodnight Moon. I imagine soccer fans had a similar frustration listening to the off sides rule explained for the umpteenth time during the World Cup.
It would be easy enough to just mute the station and enjoy watching without listening. I do this often, in fact. The problem is that I like to hear the other noises involved in the match– the sound of the ball hitting the racquet, the grunting (within reason), and the squeaking of the shoes. I’m not completely sold on hearing the crowd noise, especially at some tournaments (yep, I mean you, US Open), but it is nice to get a feel for the energy in the stadium.
I’m pretty sure that we have the technology to solve for this problem. We just need to have separate audio channels for the broadcast. There could be one commentary-free channel, one for US commentators, and just for fun, one broadcast in Russian, so I can pretend I’m back to watching an internet stream.