Posted: Wednesday April 6, 2011 12:35PM ; Updated: Wednesday April 6, 2011 12:36PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>TENNIS MAILBAG

Tennis Channel FAQ, further Djokovic-Nadal fallout, more mail

Story Highlights

Tennis Channel is essential for fans of the sport, but its availability isn't universal

Clay season will reveal the truth when it comes to Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer

Maria Sharapova's erratic serve may keep her from winning another Grand Slam

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It's almost impossible to believe a match between Ana Ivanovic and Kim Clijsters (left to right) was placed on an outer court.
It's almost impossible to believe a match between Ana Ivanovic and Kim Clijsters (left to right) was placed on an outer court.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

While still recovering from the Djokovic-Nadal final, thought we'd do something different for this column. Hardly a day goes by that one of you doesn't write in about the Tennis Channel. (The usual disclosure: I've done work for TC in the past and root unabashedly for its success.) You love it. You want it. You hate that you don't get it. You wonder why they are broadcasting an old match while a live final is going on. Do they have rights? Do they not have rights? Who do you contact when your cable system doesn't carry it?

As we speak, Tennis Channel lawyers are haggling with Comcast trying, in short, to get the Golf Channel treatment. Availability in more homes, which means more revenue, which means more ability to buy rights and develop cooler programming. Meanwhile, like the ambitious, easy-to-root for start-up that it is, the Tennis Channel chugs along, doing what it can with the resources it has. The judge's decision vis--vis Comcast will go a long way toward determining the network's future. But until then, here is a bookmarkable FAQ guide courtesy of the TC's communications department:

Q: I hear great things about the Tennis Channel. How come I still can't get it? How do I register a complaint with my cable company?

A: Tennis Channel is carried throughout the United States by most cable operators, DIRECTV, DISH Network, AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS TV. We're doing our best to make the network available to everyone who wants to watch it and are in constant communication with these providers. However, there are some local providers who still haven't made Tennis Channel available to their subscribers. If your local provider does not have Tennis Channel please tell them you want it, either through a phone call, e-mail or post on online message boards if they make them available. We appreciate the help of everyone out there who wants to watch this network and make tennis as widespread as other televised sports.

Q: There's a big match going on and TC has broadcast rights. How come sometimes it's on and other times there's a replay of some match from months ago. (i.e. it's the first round of Indian Wells and TC is airing the Memphis final.)

A: When this occurs it is usually the result of budget limitations on the part of either Tennis Channel or the tournaments in question. In some cases the network is simply unable to cover as much of a tournament as it would if it had unlimited resources, despite having the rights to the entire tournament. Other times, as was the case with Indian Wells, there is limited television infrastructure in place on the tournament grounds during the weekday run up to the weekend action. In these cases there is literally no cabling, cameras, control rooms, etc. for Tennis Channel (or other networks) to access, due to budget decisions on the part of the tournaments. Tennis Channel's first opportunity to cover the tournament subsequently comes during the weekend when the TV-courts tournament feed is in place.

Q: What's the best place to find your schedule?

A: We provide our television schedule to newspapers and tennis media around the country, in addition to the companies that manage the on-screen viewer programming guides. However, sometimes unforeseen scheduling changes do occur last minute, in too short of a timeframe for these outlets to update the latest information. Viewers can always visit Tennis Channel's home page, www.tennischannel.com, for the most recent on-air details. We also post schedule changes as quickly as possible on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/tennischannel) and Twitter feed (twitter.com/tennischannel).

Q: How come you don't do more documentaries and original programming?

A: We are very encouraged by the positive responses that Tennis Channel receives for our non-match programming. Like anything else, the number of series episodes, specials and documentaries that we produce each year is limited to resources and annual programming budget decisions. Additionally, the majority of the network's on-air schedule is devoted to match play because our primary service to viewers is to provide them with as much tennis as possible. That said, because this is a sport with a seemingly inexhaustible well of colorful characters, rich tradition and interesting storylines, there are plenty of other non-match programming ideas in the planning stages right now. We hope to develop more of these types of shows as the network continues to grow.

Q: Recently Brad Gilbert tweeted: "Big frustration, I feel it with you fans, TC stays on ONE court only, so many good matches happening simultaneously, and we only get 1 = ???" Is it true you only have rights to one court?

A: Within Tennis Channel's telecast windows we have the rights to all matches being produced on all TV courts. Sometimes our ability to jump from court-to-court at a tournament is limited due to a variety of reasons, among them our network resources or a tournament's on-site production capabilities. This ultimately prevents us from being as dynamic as we are at larger events like the Slams, and as we would love to be at every tournament we cover. We feel the fans' frustration too. Our core mission has always been to provide as much tennis as possible to everyone who wants to see it, and this will keep getting better as we grow. Looking ahead to 2012, we expect to offer more court coverage than we are able to this year.

Fedal is dead! Long live Rafole!
--Dijana Djokovic, Serbia

• This, obviously, is a fakery. (The attached email address made me laugh but is unfit for publication.) Nevertheless it pretty much captures the Discussion of the Moment. Is Federer cooked? Is Djokovic the New King? It's amusing to me how parallel the discussions are:

1) How long do we hold on to our shares of Fed Inc. stock? Yes, it's performed brilliantly in previous fiscal years. Even with this recent dip it's still trading at a nice multiple. (Factoid: since last July, Federer's record against players other than Murray/Djokovic/Nadal, is 52-1.) It would stink to unload only to see a bounceback. The corporate structure is there, the market can turn soft and with a few adjustments -- the McKinsey consultants will come and advise shoring up the backhand wing and using a bigger stick -- it could return to prominence. On the other hand, we don't want to delude ourselves and the current trends are hard to overlook. At what point do I commit and divest? You don't want to get swept up in the hype but you don't want to be irrational.

2) How long do we resist buying shares of Djokovic Inc.? It's been going gangbusters recently and the future is bright. After a maturation process, some dips and some p.r. crises, it seems to have found its sweet spot. It's hard not to be optimistic about the growth prospects. On the other hand, any company can have a strong quarter. (In tennis terms: a lot of players have won one straight Slam.) You'd hate to clamber aboard the bandwagon prematurely, leverage yourself to the hilt only to have the shares tumble. At what point do I commit and invest? You don't want to get swept up in the hype but you don't want to be irrational.

My answer: Clay season will tell plenty. If Djokovic keeps this up on the clay, then we're having a totally different conversation than we're having now. If Federer continues to falter in big matches, we probably need to reassess. For now, I'm playing cautious investor on both counts.

Ivanovic wins the French, hits No. 1, fizzles out slowly. Jankovic doesn't win a Slam, hits No. 1, but then stays in the top 10 consistently, winning a few more titles along the way. Practically speaking (prestige/bragging rights aside) who's had it better here? The money for Jankovic has to have outpaced her countrywoman's earnings by now.
--Jon B., Seattle

• Hmm. Good question. Two mercurial careers -- two players, both from one country -- both filled with some real highs and some inexplicable lows. One player wins a major and achieves No. 1 but falls dramatically. The other player never wins a major but at least sticks around the top 10. I know a lot of you will take issue with this, but Slams are of such importance -- especially on the WTA -- I take a French Open title and then a fall down the mine shaft over no Slams and something (kinda/sorta/not really) resembling consistency.

You mentioned in your latest column that there were some curious scheduling decisions made at the recent Sony Ericsson Open. Can you provide an example of what you would consider an odd scheduling choice? I am interested in how the tournament director goes about juggling all those egos/scheduling demands placed upon him/her and ends up deciding who plays when and where!
--Jason Arroyo, Key Biscayne, Fla.

• I'll say in advance that this is a totally thankless job in the best of times. When there's a rain delay and television "partners" whose needs and preferences need to be considered it's even trickier. But how do you put Clijsters and Ivanovic -- two of the three most marketable women you have -- on an outer court with no Hawk-Eye or television camera?

I just got back from the Sony Ericsson Open after three straight days of awesome quarters and semis, but I couldn't have been happier to leave prior to the women's final. I can't imagine what it must have been like to listen to that shrieking for that long and in that heat. I watched Petkovic warm up and was surprised that she too has a whole vocal thing going on. Does anyone at the WTA care that the fans are really starting to take issue with this obviously inorganic and loud "grunting" going on?
--Kevin Ware, San Francisco

• Between this column and Twitter, I bet I fielded more than 100 complaints about the grunting. I've expressed my view that I'm not particularly disturbed but it's clear that I am in the minority. And this is not only bothering people but -- worse -- causing people to tune out. It's pretty simple, really. The WTA can deem this sufficiently serious enough to take a stand. Or the tour can do what it did with mid-match coaching and capitulate to the players. (The conspiracy theorist says that those in power don't mind the grunting at all. The WTA has always been erratic/inconsistent about selling sex. You and I might find it unseemly, but there are worse ways to get attention than letting two women in their early 20s make noises befitting the red-light district.)

Is this discussion inherently sexist, as one of you wondered? I don't think so. If male players made such extreme, elongated sounds, they'd be called on it, too. Is it habit, rather than tactical? Perhaps. But so what? What's wrong with asking a player to break a habit? Does it affect the opponent? Originally I'd said "no." (When players can continue a rally with planes flying overhead, they can deal with some shrieking noises.) But during the final, Azarenka's grunts continued resounding when Sharapova was striking that next ball. That's a problem. If nothing else, it'll be interesting to see where this goes....

I watched almost ALL of the coverage on TV from Miami and 90 percent of the time they came back from a commercial break they were pumping, Rihanna's hit single "S&M" in the stadium during the changeovers. I mean, this song was played at least 100 times over the two-week tournament. This is supposed to be a family-friendly event, no? Sample lyric: "Sex in the air / I don't care / I like the smell of it / Whips and chains excite me." Why on earth would they keep playing this song? If I'm sitting there with my pre-teens I'm pretty [unhappy]. Classless Sony Ericsson Open -- and tacky.
--Chuck Keenum, West Hollywood, Calif.

• And I thought it was bad when Amelie Mauresmo faced Venus Williams at the U.S. Open a few years back and they played Rage In The Machine's "Killing in the Name." (Sample lyrics: "Some of those that work forces / Are the same that burn crosses.") Then again, with all the grunting going on, maybe sex is in the air?

I'm not sure how much lamentation is in order regarding American tennis. Yes, on the women's side in particular, we face that possibility of joining Australia and Great Britain as hosts of a major unable to advance anyone past the third round. But with the growing internationalism of the sport, it's hard to be too terribly depressed when there are three American men and two women in the top 20. Yes, four of these players are probably fast approaching retirement, but three of them have had splendid careers. If we're talking about "American tennis" as some kind of institution, it's worth saying that this situation has existed for a long while -- it's not "American tennis" that should get the credit for Roddick's underappreciated stint as a top 10 player, it's Andy Roddick. Same goes for the Williams sisters. American tennis, only slightly less than Australian tennis, flourished at a time of more limited international competition and has never had a thriving "system." But unlike those systems (in Russia, say) that crank out top 20 and top 10 players like coffee grinds, the United States does produce great individual athletes. I'm willing to patient and see what happens. And, in the meantime, I'll simply soak up the joys of Novak Djokovic, Li Na, Shahar Peer, Caroline Wozniacki, Roger Federer and all the other wonderful players from nations without a great tennis tradition.
--Joshua, Portland, Ore.

• I'm with Joshua. But here's a well-reasoned counterpoint courtesy of a Dallas reader: "I disagree with your assessment that the U.S.'s tennis troubles shouldn't impinge on your enjoyment of the sport overall. Maybe not on a personal level, but overall it does if you happen to live in America. Even if you are an American that doesn't like any of the American players like me. Less quality American players means less coverage for the sport in America. Remember when tennis use to get good coverage and decent television ratings here? Those days are long gone. Bruce Jenkins wrote the number of traveling U.S. tennis writers is at an all-time low. Less media coverage equals less of a chance to create new fans. Less fans equal less people who care about tennis. Keep adding that up and you have an obscure niche sport that is dying -- at least in this country. It's no fun watching a sport not many of your countrymen or media care about. You have written many times about the lack of interest in tennis these days on our shores and the problem it creates. And there is only one way to improve that. No, not some HBO special following around some little known Russian player. Better American players. It's the only way. Nationalism will always pay a huge part in tennis. Look at Serbia, China, Argentina, and the U.K. with Murray. On the other side look at Brazil after Guga stopped playing. Or us right now. So I think you are putting your head in the sand on this. Even Sports Illustrated isn't giving tennis the coverage it used to. But if a few hotshot Americans became stars, you can bet there would be a lot more coverage."

 
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