Unless you happened to have been in England during this year's Wimbledon fortnight, you haven't seen one of the more audacious sports documentaries in recent years. From Andre Agassi's musings on sex before matches ("Sex doesn't interfere with your tennis, it's staying out all night trying to find it that affects your tennis") to Mark Philippoussis's explanation of why he tattooed his right biceps with a likeness of Alexander the Great ("He was a f——-conqueror of the world, he was f——-Greek, and he was gay"), Beyond the Baseline, a 50-minute film by former ATP Tour players Geoff Grant and Mark Keil, offers a glimpse of men's tennis beyond the usual vanilla postmatch press conferences.
This isn't a polished Ken Burnsian documentary. Baseline often has the feel of a party video shot by well-heeled frat boys. The film opens with footage of Keil, an American ranked No. 224 in the world at the time, upsetting Pete Sampras on grass at England's Queens Club in 1991. ("We really wanted to make the title The Worst Player Ever to Beat Pete Sampras" says Keil.) Keil began filming himself and fellow ATP Tour players in 1999 as a lark and showed the footage to his buddy and fellow journeyman Grant, another American, who thought it would make for a terrific documentary. The two traveled together, with Grant doing the shooting, for most of 2000, the last season on tour for both. (Grant retires on camera.) They finished editing the 110 hours of footage last May, and Britain's Channel 5 aired it during Wimbledon. The film received plaudits, with the Sunday Mail calling it "fascinating and illuminating." Channel 9 in Australia also plans to show it before the 2002 Australian Open.
Grant, 31, and Keil, 34, have entered Baseline in January's Sundance Film Festival and have recently begun shopping their opus to U.S. networks. They admit the film might be a hard sell, particularly for broadcast networks, because of the avalanche of profanity (mostly out of Keil's mouth) and glimpses of male nudity (Keil, again). Undaunted, they plan to launch a website (beyondthebaseline.com) this month and are confident they'll get Baseline into the hands of the U.S. tennis public—even if it means going straight to home video. "We may just have to sell it the old-fashioned way," Grant says with a laugh. "We'll do it over the Internet."