During Grand Slam events, players’ performance obviously and rightfully gets the most attention. Often, sportswriters and bloggers assign players mid-term grades based on their performance in the first week of the event.
For the TV audience, performance of the television personalities of the broadcasting channel is an important part of the viewing experience.
A good commentator actually adds to the excitement of the match, while a sub—par commentator can make you reach for that mute button.
ESPN’s coverage of the French Open has been slightly above average. Here are my grades on its coverage of Week One of the French Open.
- Darren Cahill (A) – Aussie tops the list. Technical analysis? Check. Interesting anecdotes? Check. Infusing just the right amount of humor? Check. Roger Federer’s loss (of a coach) is our gain (of a commentator). Kudos.
- Brad Gilbert (A-) – Has been improving with each event, but has been a revelation this year. His cameo with Darren demonstrating the "clay-court slide" was educating as well as entertaining. As a player he may have won ugly, but as a commentator he talks beautifully.
- Patrick McEnroe (B+) – Always brings the well-rounded perspective that comes from being an ex-player, coach, television personality and Davis Cup captain. Needs to bring the tone of excitement that bro John brings so effortlessly, but I am nitpicking here.
- Mary-Joe Fernandez (B) – Another top ex-player who has seamless moved to a more than competent television personality. Downer: Her comments always seem rather US-centric. Maybe it is her role as the captain of the US Fed Cup team. She would do well to learn from Patrick McEnroe, who refuses to let his captaincy of the US Davis Cup team affect his commentary.
- Chris Fowler (B-) – Normally very good, but his comments during the Sharapova-Shvedova match were in bad taste. He actually said that “glorious nation of Kazakhstan” (apparently his guide to world geography is Borat) “lured Shvedova with money” to change her national allegiance. I suppose he believes that when players like Navratilova and Lendl become US citizens, they do it for their love of liberty and freedom. Right.
- Dick Enberg (C) – The gaffes have been building up for a while now, but at least he was still good for a story or two. His comments during the postmatch presentation at the 2007 US Open (when he introduced Justine Henin as Henin-Hardenne and actually referring to her as "Christine" in a prior year) should have been told his employers at CBS that he is past his use-by-date. Now his commentary just seems hackneyed and predictable.
- Pam Shriver (C-) – Her whining about how the French crowd doesn’t “respect” Serena or always supports her opponent is pathetic. She seems genuinely baffled why people will not support a player who routinely refuses to give her opponents credit and keeps doubting the accuracy of the official WTA rankings. Wasn’t a fan of hers during her playing days, even less so now.
- Off-Court Coverage (D) – Yes, we get it. We are in France. Do we really need the cheesy accordion music and touristy postcards of Parisian landmarks to ram the fact down our throats?
- Tape Delayed Matches (F) – Seriously ESPN, other than for the benefit of Luddites who don’t have the benefit of the Internet, what is the point of these matches? Do it live!!