This review may or may not be more technically orientated than the audience for this writer’s work is used to. That said its fandom for tennis as a sport will very much colour his opinion on the splashy Netflix flies-on-the-wall offering loosely following several desperate stories from across the 2022 season. So let’s discuss.
When the ATP, WTA and grand slams announced at the start of 2022 they were collaborating with Netflix to produce a documentary series on the upcoming season this fan of the sport had a couple of different thoughts. Firstly he varied between obliged and interested in genuinely seeing what would come of the project. If this thing was to blow up in popularity and become the global showcase for the sport that on some level those involved in signing off its existence would want it to be it may or may not become what the general public perceives tennis to be. much is this author has not seen any of the first four seasons this was certainly the impact Drive to Survive appeared to have on Formula One. Given that there was crossover in the production company involved in putting the tennis equivalent together it’s not hard to see why the various machinations of the tennis system would want Their equivalent focusing on the elite level
Then you have the events of the 2022 season itself. Huge chunks of it played out exactly like one of these hyper narrative-driven, emotionally manipulative super slick and ultimately propulsive in the best cases sports documentaries It’s hard not to think the producers were handed last season on a silver platter. if they could not make something compelling out of storylines like the Djokovic deportation, the fact Nick Kyrgioss’s life appears to be a Netflix show in and of itself, this Świątek streak. Rafa Nadal’s Australian Open run topped off with a truly sensational comeback against Daniil Medvedev. The geopolitics around Wimbledon 2022, Ons Jabeurs trailblazing run for Arab women in a sport on a global stage (especially at Wimbledon Carlos Alcarez winning the first of what is surely a double-digit Grand Slam count at the US Open. That’s not even meaning Federer’s Laver Cup retirement. Needless to say, some of this is referenced and covered to varying degrees in the first five episodes of the debut season which is what is being reviewed here. These episodes were released as Part One the Friday before the start of the main Australian Open 2023 draw The critical question from this watcher’s perspective was not what he would get out of it as a pretty dedicated tennis fan. It’s clear that on a certain level based on the initial marketing rollout something like Break Point is targeted to give casual viewers a taste and specific viewpoint on life within elite-level tennis. The question is how successful is it in this regard and will the ongoing series be the injection of interest the stakeholders involved in putting it together clearly want it to be?
The honest answer that has seen half the first season Is that it’s kind of hard to tell. There are two very clear statements of intent within the series premiere. Firstly a stretch of opening exposition delivered by tennis pundit and writer Courtney Nguyen effectively lays out to anyone watching this with no knowledge whatsoever a very brief explanation of the Set scoring system. importance of the grand slams and briefly touches on some other tournaments from last season that viewers will be visiting throughout the first season. This opening half covers the Australian Open through to Roland Garros with episodes on Indian Wells and Madrid sandwiched in between. The other key creative choice Making the Kyrgios and Kokkinakis double s run episode the premiere. In a certain way, this makes sense. Beyond region, specifications Kyrgioss is likely the most known current tennis player under 30 on tour and would jump given his media persona to be involved in a project like this. There are certainly illuminating moments on Kyrgioss’s mental health struggles and initial perception as a tennis wonder kid when he first arrived on the scene at Wimbledon in 2014 There’s an exceptionally raw moment where his agent talks openly about his drinking habits in the years following the initial breakthrough. Even for someone of Kyrgioss standing and clear volatility within the sport, this is on some level a brave and very admirable inclusion. It in turn encounters the first of several instances where there is information left out to perpetuate the narrative those behind the camera want to tell. This is unquestionably the most serious of these from across these episodes with the clear omission of the Kyrgioss domestic violence case that reared its head firmly around this time and to the best of this writer’s research is still ongoing as of this writing over a year later. That said this sort of choice is emblematic of the morality and mentality within the genre as opposed to a specifically pinpointed issue with This production in isolation. There are certainly other strong moments sprinkled throughout and effective use of the clear level of unprecedented access the makers were given here. It may only tell make a vague gesture at Nadal’s injury in the final but the Taylor Fritz Indian Wells ankle twist was captured and utilised by the Netflix cameras. Seeing him and his medical team debate whether he should even consider playing the match is the sort of event that this genre of show thrives on. There’s also some Solid material here following the immediate aftermath of Paula Badosa’s meteoric rise to the top. Espesacily in the context of knowing that she will mostly experience a crash back down to earth in this season covered.
As a general rule, the narratives chosen for focus are well-presented and engaging. Even if there’s a blatant level of cynicism some of the clear choices made in the storylines that the makers believe will manufacture drama. With the greatest of respect to Ajla Tomljanović and Matteo Berrettini, they absolutely would not be a linchpin of the main Australian Open episode if they had not been in a public relationship at the point the project started. Knowing that they broke up there’s a morbid amusement in the clear retrospective editing going on in the choice to show their unbelievably messy hotel room and clear friction over a choice as theoretically simple as what movie they might watch. Or where is going to complete a press interview from? That said like the example in the Kyrgioss episode this is mostly a systemic genre problem as opposed to something unique to this endeavour.
All this before we’ve gotten to the presentation of the actual tennis. The best way to describe what to some will be the most critical element of this entire project is that it’s exactly what you would expect yet also significantly worse than anything one can imagine. The entire thing is hyper-slick, easy watching this has been edited to within an inch of its life. However, there was a clear decision made in the construction of these episodes to cut round any major instances of balls hit and points played unless they absolutely have to. On one level the inherent justification of the creative team was ringing in the ears of this fan. “ This is meant to be about the interpersonal lives of the players. Not the tennis itself.” Yet this writer and fan would argue that the playing of tennis (or any elite level sport in which an athlete has to dedicate their entire existence) very much relates to how we as fans of the sport can perceive their interpersonal lives. Watching their style of play bleed on and off into their style of play on the court as well as their social media presence and how they deal with the broader machinations of the press. As a final product, BreakPoint is only truly interested in having a singular vision or angle. This is fine and effective in some ways. Even as a seasoned watcher of the sport this viewer thought the five episodes were effective in showcasing the kind of all-access pass to the locations and events that are difficult to attain for even the most dedicated fans given that the ATP and WTA (and to some extent the Grand Slams) exist on their monolithic organisation. That said the choice not to put any of the specific stories told in this half-season within the context of the broader tennis season yet only dedicating half an episode to each of the players featured thus far beyond Kyrgioss. There isn’t enough time for anyone not automatically familiar with the sport and personalities involved to gain any fandom or appreciation for these players. Not to mention the physical and mental hardship that is required in terms of playing an elite-level individual sport.
The makers perceived allergic reaction to showcasing any of the sport they are on some level meant to be promoting is made doubly more awkward when another two-pronged problem initially presents itself to any seasoned viewer of the sport. Firstly the creative team here clearly did not get the rights to use even the World Feed commentary in their aborted coverage of matches. This is certainly not a deal breaker although, in the context of clearly having access to so much else to get this thing off the ground, it sticks out as something of an odd choice. It would be decidedly less notable and awkward had the compromise reached not come across as so forced and awkward. They get several existing tennis pundits who would have been doing the genuine commentary for the matches to record exclusive sound bite style recaps and bridge narration that are exclusive to this production. It blurs the line for those of us familiar with these voices synonymous with worldwide tennis coverage and punditry regularly. Names like Robbie Koenig, Pat Cash, Mark Petchey Leon Smith and Catherine Whitaker are all here and plenty of others are here delivering material that could vary easily pass for abridged pre and post-match commentary. That’s not counting on camera contributions from the likes of Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and others. These do manage to split for difference nicely between recognisable faces to the more mainstream crowd and those (aside from Sharapova) who have become figureheads of post-career punditry in tennis. that’s not even touching a moment where covering the Felix Auger Aliassime and Toni Nadal coaching relationship and the “Uncle Toni Darby” at the French Open match against Rafa there’s clear audio sliced in from The Tennis Podcast discussion on the topic when it first hit the headlines. This is entirely separate from Whitaker being drafted in to do large sections of match soundbite material on her own. This entire line of creative choices makes the entire thing more complicated and distracting for regular tennis match viewers than it needs to be.
Part one of Netflixs attempt at a piece of the tennis pie with Break Point is pretty much exactly what you would expect for this genre… until it isn’t. Hyper narrative-driven, emotionally manipulative, missing out key factors and details in service of the narrative being delivered and with the participating athletes essentially being employed to dole out trailer lines and motivational quotes. Until one starts to realise the series of odd choices piling on top of each other that even for casual and non-fans of the sport limit this project’s appeal. Never truly given one player enough spotlighted time to win over any individual fandom (outside of perpetuating the same Nick Kyrgios narrative that has essentially not evolved since he broke onto the scene.) Yet also never gaining any real access to the raw sport at its best where the quality of the hitting power, competitive spirit and athleticism speaks for itself. There’s plenty of good stuff here. The entire thing is very slick and easily digestible. even for seasoned fans. A great involuntary opportunity here to get what is effectively a behind-the-scenes pass to the machinations of such global sport and the mental toll of playing events week in and week out. That said without putting any of the individual stories told from across the 2022 season in any greater context and not letting the raw quality of the best tennis footage available speak for itself it’s hard to imagine what non-fans will get out of this beyond it being just another sports documentary. This takes us back to the original question. What exactly did the ATP and WTA hope to gain from this project? Having seen the first half season of the final product this author and is are honestly still not sure