Top Tennis Commentators

Its that time again, when most of the known world sits behind the tube, on their favorite couch, sporting their favorite beverage, chip crumbs strewn across their lap, ready to watch their favorite players battle it out in the final slam of the year, yes, you guessed it, its US OPEN time!  New York, the Big Apple, bright lights, city streets, and electricity abuzz, there really is nothing like the final major of the year, hosting the biggest stadium in the world, named after possibly the sport’s greatest ambassador ever, Arthur Ashe.

In these decadent times of economic slumber, people still need their fix of quality tennis but live action viewing seems reserved for the few unscathed pocket books, while the many depend on that blue screen in the living room to emit their pleasures and quench their US Open thirst.

All the talk and buzz circling the favorites to make the finals and revel in tennis glory hound the media in all forms, and monopolize most of the conversations surrounding this year’s final slam, but does anybody talk about who is presenting this information? I would like to. Who do you think are the top broadcasters in the business?

Tennis fans are pretty savvy and range in the above average intelligentsia range, and perhaps can be a bit snooty by nature. My girlfriend flings that term at me often, and I can’t necessarily deny it too much. We are a pretty demanding bunch, and the hardcore are very astute to the game and conditions that constitute quality play and format. The middle men, and women, are the difference between a fine Cabernet and a flat diet soda to accompany the main dish. Whether it’s the ultra chatty John McEnroe who seems to me an elitist impresario rather than an objective commentator, or the South African Sultan of Snoot, Clifford Drysdale, who characterizes the term “comedy of errors,” I think it more than appropriate to list of the top contenders for best commentator.

First thing first, before we get going on the best of the best, I have to say that Chris Fowler should be tarred, feathered, and thrown in the Hudson immediately. I don’t know who thought this guy should be the anchor of tennis for ESPN but his termination is long overdue. The steely chinned, slickly dressed, creepy eyed Fowler, who has never played the game professionally and maybe even recreationally, teeters back and forth between irrelevant commentating on player acumen, to really bad bantering between himself and Brad Gilbert. He continually undermines and questions the real authorities of tennis and rarely has any substantial evidence to back his claims.

He is just plain FOUL, and needs to go. He’s the type of guy that would shake your hand with added pressure to compensate for a fragile ego and a lackluster libido. He probably skins kittens for pleasure, and cheats his mom in poker. Bye Bye Birdie, see ya Fowler!

What about Pam Shriver? Is there anybody else out there who sees this woman as a beady eyed executioner rather than a competent commentator? She conducts herself with zero composure and takes it as a sign of bravado and class to speak your mind, no matter how smelly the stuff coming out is. James Blake, who is known for his sportsmanship and mannerly demeanor, scoffed at Shriver, as was his right, at Wimbledon this year, when the snarling Shriver decided to have an outloud conversation with herself courtside distracting Blake in a big match, which he eventually lost, albeit not entirely Shriver’s fault, she certainly played an integral role.

I think Gilbert is funny, and usually knows what he’s talking about, although he can be overboard. He does add a much needed spunk to the booth. Cahill, the Australian Mummy, always looks confused and nervous, although he is very knowledgeable; he possesses this overwrought persona of a nerd with no personality. He looks like he needs sleep. Or perhaps a polo mallet to the head.

The only people in my mind who know what they’re doing, and supply an ample balance of silence and talking are the European commentators for Tennis Channel. Jason Goodall, Robbie Koenig, and Doug Addler, are the best of the best. They’re commentating is fresh, insightful, spot on, and more than often compliments the match severity perfectly with little side comments and just the right amount of humor and wit. They are my top three, with Addler taking the top spot.

Navratilova is great as well. She brings a candidness and professionalism to the booth that is sorely missing from other pros, McEnroe especially. Carillo needs to go home and decide what gender she is and call me in the morning.

What is absolutely needed in the booth for ESPN is Jim Courier and Andre Agassi. Agassi commentated just one time in the history of broadcasting and it was a US Open match between Federer and Roddick a few years back and he was a pied prophet of articulation and spoke with so much wisdom and honesty about the players and the game, especially Federer. It was amazing to listen to and enhanced the match that much. I personally feel he may be a better broadcaster than a player. Courier is extremely intelligent, a former world number one, and knows the players and the game inside out. He can tactically break down a match like no other and uses a very dynamic vernacular to communicate that.

How sweet would it be if Agassi and Federer became broadcast partners one day? Rafa and Fed? Give me your picks folks. And please, don’t say Dick Enberg.


By Peter Nez

“This is the Federer we’ve been accustomed to seeing,” long time commentator Dick Enberg stated in the third set when Roger was serving for the match, which became his first straight sets victory at the Wimbledon Championships thus far, having “struggled” in his first two rounds. I’m not convinced it was necessarily a struggle, even though he rarely goes five sets in a major, particularly on grass, even more bizarrely at Wimbledon, but I am of the opinion that the men’s game is so vastly talented and Federer is engaged in a constant staving off of young upstarts day in and day out, being one of the oldest on tour currently, dominating multi generational huddles, and as Mahut and Isner have proved, anything can happen on any given day. And what does Alejandro Falla and Bozo the clown have to lose? Absolutely nothing. Their impetus must be to go for broke, full throttle, no hesitation, and little thought for marginal play, or else what could be the only outcome possible? ‘Fortune favors the brave,’; an aphorism that parades the sports psychologists halls and sessions frequently, and to face that mind set every time you step out on court is something only the greatest athletes can relate to. Falla was the perfect embodiment, Soderling: a vision of execution, and Bozo was an anomaly at best. Clement was the perfect opponent for Roger to get back to Swiss precision and rhythm.

Federer is renowned for stepping up his play as tournaments progress, especially majors, and today was no different. The serve and movement was intact, the energy on court apparent, and with an opponent who is devoid of any perplexing weapons, Roger showed us all why he has six Wimbledon titles and counting. Greatness comes easy to those with an abundance, but without the proof of its prowess renewed continually on the world’s grandest stages, even past accolades can seem shadowed and distant. Federer thrives on confidence maybe more now than he ever did before and a match like this, taking Clement out in three seasoned sets, could give him the boost he needs with a draw that looms with hungry contenders. If Australia 2010 has showed us anything, when Roger’s game is on, nobody has a chance.


By Maud Watson
Rafa Rebuttal – Last week I received a lot of feedback on my criticism of Rafael Nadal’s comments regarding the ATP schedule following his withdrawal from Barcelona. If the article came across as “Nadal bashing,” then that was my mistake, and I deserve to be called on it. Many of you rightly pointed out that players such as Roger Federer and Andy Roddick have also panned the current schedule, as well as pointing out that it’s wonderful that Nadal can use his stature in the sport as a voice to bring about change. I agree with both of these statements. I agree with Nadal that the schedule is too long, and it is a definite advantage he’s willing to speak his mind. Where I have an issue with his comments, however, is I don’t see as much effort on his part to make adjustments on his own end. First, and I’ll preface this statement by saying other players such as Federer, Roddick, Djokovic, etc. should also be held accountable to this one the same as Nadal, is choosing to play exhibitions. If I’m an ATP exec, I have trouble going to a tournament director, particularly of a big successful event, and telling that director I have to downsize their tournament or wipe them off the map completely to give the players a longer off season. I have trouble with that, because these same players are the ones who accept large appearance fees to play exhibitions in an already too-short off season or throughout the course of the season itself.  Who’s to say they won’t play even more exhibitions if they have a few more weeks of free time on their hands?

My second issue with Nadal, however, is his scheduling, a topic which commentator Robbie Koenig noted during his commentary in Rome this week as an issue the Spaniard needs to address. Federer has always been excellent about planning his schedule to avoid overplaying, and Roddick has recently been doing the same. If they feel they need a rest, they forgo some of the 500 events, or they take advantage of the fact that an event like Monte Carlo is optional. (And for those who have suggested there’s an American bias when Indian Wells and Miami are back-to-back yet not optional, it’s worth noting they are also bigger tournaments that offer more prize money and have a larger overall financial commitment. For better or for worse, money talks.)  These are also guys, along with other players such as Murray, who have based their decisions regarding Davis Cup around ensuring they are as rested and ready to go each week on the ATP Tour. This is a sticky topic, as you don’t want to discourage a player from representing his country, and Nadal’s decision to do so is admirable. Despite that, however, I personally think it better to force the ITF’s hand in revamping the Davis Cup format to better fit the ATP schedule than the other way around. Furthermore, even Novak Djokovic, who has criticized the length of the season, freely admitted to the fact that his fatigue was also due to his poor planning and over scheduling himself last year. This has historically been a problem for Nadal, and an issue that Uncle Toni is only now beginning to seriously address. And as a final word on the length of the season, I think blaming it for the increase in injuries over the years is simplifying the problem too much. The Williams sisters, who play as little as possible while still staying within the rules (something Serena freely admits to), always seem to have something taped up every time they come out to play a match. I firmly believe the changes in technology and what it has done to the game as far as making it more physical must also be pointed to as one of the main causes for the increase in injuries.

My final issue with Nadal is his stubbornness regarding his style of play. He’s obviously earned a lot of accolades with his grinding style, and I’m not suggesting he do a complete overhaul of what he’s been so successful with. But his physical brand of tennis should bear a large portion of the blame for his knee problems, and he’s going to continue to pay for it, particularly on a hard court. Roddick is a guy who went out and lost weight and is working on not falling into the habit of getting trapped behind the baseline on defense unless necessary. Djokovic has also been working on his fitness and his net game to shorten points. Instead of digging his heels in and being stubborn when asked by reporters about changing his game, Nadal should look at other options. Throughout matches, he has shown plenty of occasions where he’s capable of being more aggressive, and he’s certainly shown he has the talent to make the switch given the number of shots he’s added to his repertoire.  If Justine Henin can do it, so can he.

This may just seem like more Nadal bashing, but I’ll stick by my stance.  Yes, Nadal’s complaints about the season are valid. Yes, it is a great that he’s willing to speak out about it. But do I give his criticisms as much weight as others?  No.  Not until he takes more responsibility for things on his own end the way the others who are complaining about the season have done on theirs.

Gulbis the “Real Deal?” – Until recently, Latvian Ernests Gulbis looked as though he were on track to be one of the biggest underachievers the sport of tennis has ever seen. Having won a title in 2010 and putting together a nice run in Barcelona, Gulbis has shown he’s now ready to hang with the big boys and continue his climb up the rankings with an impressive win over Roger Federer this week in Rome. While he did stumble a bit at the finish line, getting broken when he first served for the match, I was impressed that he stuck with Federer, broke him again, and this time made no mistake as he successfully served it out. Gulbis may now be ready to finally fulfill his potential.

No Pain, No Gain – Justine Henin overcame the pain of a broken pinky finger on her left hand to secure a 7-6, 6-1 win over Julia Goerges in Stuttgart, her first official clay court match since coming back from sabbatical.  Henin stated she was encouraged by the fact that the pain has lessened in the broken appendage and that she is adjusting to playing with the splint. She also admits she’s still trying to find the right balance in her game. As a fan, I’m holding my breath that the finger heals and she finds that balance.  If so, we’re in for a real treat a few weeks from now in Paris.

Fitness Race – The other half of the Belgian duo, Kim Clijsters, is in a more serious fitness battle of her own.  Clijsters fought through pain in her left foot to defeat Maret Ani in straights sets this past weekend in Fed Cup play. It was later discovered she has a tear in the muscle, and doctors are estimating she may very well need six weeks of recovery time. This puts her Roland Garros hopes in serious jeopardy, as the second major of the year is set to get underway in just four weeks. Ever the optimist, Clijsters hasn’t given up on competing in the French capital, stating she generally recovers quickly and feels she can do just that despite doctor’s concerns.  We’re pulling for you, Kim!

Bad Day In Court – Brit Robert Dee struggles to win matches on the court, and now he’s apparently struggling to win them in court. He recently brought a libel suit against the Daily Telegraph for labeling him as far as professional tennis player go, the “world’s worst.” As Mrs. Justice Sharp, who presided over the case, stated however, the facts remain that Dee, who is a professional tennis player, did lose 54 consecutive matches (all in straight sets) in international play, equaling the world record for most consecutive losses in international competition. It has to be hard enough to go through that on the court, but utterly humilitating to have it explained to you and all present in a court of law. He’s already suffered enough of ‘em, so maybe it’s time to just cut his losses and call it a day.

Robbie Koenig Blogs From Montreal

Welcome to the U.S. hard court season! Things are spicing up very nicely as the top dogs continue to dominate here in Montreal. For the first time ever in a men’s tournament, the top eight-ranked players in the world have reached the quarterfinals. History was made in Montreal and it was good to be part of it!

Not much to report on thus far, Jason Goodall (co-commentator) and myself very much looking forward to the weekend ahead. I like Andy Murray this week for the win. He’s impressed me the most out of the top eight guys. I thought Rafa and Novak have been below par. JW’s match with Roger should be highly entertaining and beware of Davy! When the Russian is on, he can be devastating and he’s playing with renewed confidence of late!

Still no sign of the Federer twins on site this week. They are probably just chilling with Mirka back at the hotel

The tournament’s atmosphere has been ridiculously good, especially the evening sessions which have all been sold out! If you enjoy your tennis, this is a must visit event! The city is also fantastic so its a double whammy!

We’ll chat again tomorrow.