Does a TV documentary make tennis cool again? It works in Formula 1, but a Netflix series is not always a magic formula to make a sport boom

Max Verstappen also eventually tacked again. The two-time world champion was one of the few who initially did not want to participate in Drive to survive, now in its fifth season. Because it was portrayed more dramatically than it is, he felt, rivalries were magnified. Or because he doesn’t immediately see a camera on his skin. Sorry, didn’t like it, because Verstappen is now present again. How did he feel about that, after he had previously been disdainful about the documentary? “Allright”, was his curt reply.

The return of Verstappen, with his aggressive and spectacular driving style and Dutch swagger, is a huge asset, but even without him, interest in the documentary in Formula 1, especially in the United States, boomed. An unprecedented success Drive to survive, with viewing figures that benefit from it. With viewers who, thanks to the series about Formula 1, watch the Formula 1 races themselves. Even our Belgian greatest motorsport legend of all time, Jacky Ickx, experienced that. “The evolution of Formula 1 has never been so great. Look at the Netflix series about Formula 1: now people may know less about the car brands, but they do know about the twenty stars of Formula 1. I even notice it in my family: apart from Vanina (his daughter who also practices motor racing), none of my children or grandchildren interested or passionate about motorsport, thanks to those Netflix series. What’s more, so many years later my grandchildren, both boys and girls, have started to immerse themselves in my former career.”

In short, a success at 300 kilometers per hour. On to the next global sport, the makers of the F1 docuseries reasoned. The concept is the same: the camera as a kind of fly-on-the-wall, but in tennis. Beautifully presented, for sure. A nice introduction to tennis too – for example, it explains what the grand slam season looks like, how long men and women have to play.

On the other hand, it hardly goes into how The Great Tennis Moments of 2022 went behind the scenes. The soap opera of Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia for not being vaccinated against corona; the sublime grand slam victories at the Australian Open and Roland Garros by Rafael Nadal; the last match of great Serena Williams or the farewell of Roger Federer, the GOATS of tennis: it is not discussed in depth, let alone how the stars feel about it. For the simple reason that the Big Three – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – and Serena Williams aren’t too keen on baring their souls with a camera crew breathing down their necks, let alone peeking into their private lives. Money is not a decisive argument in this, they already have that with locks.

Break point pack that handy and put in on ‘the next generation’. Nick Kyrgios, not coincidentally, because tennis’ most famous bad boy, kicks off. There is a haunting testimony from Paula Badosa, for example, who describes the conflicting mix of emotions on the court, how sometimes she feels great but then again so bad that she “wants to die”. Break point is certainly a fascinating insight into the minds of tennis professionals, an insight into the gruesome mental game that is tennis.

The Spanish Paula Badosa. — © AP

But the documentary lacks salt and pepper. Everyone seems to respect each other, to be kind to each other. The quarrel between Casper Ruud and Holger Rune in Roland Garros? Other rivalries? Players or player who roughly put their coach on the street? Not to be seen.

Unfortunately, against Drive to survive able to Break point not on. There is no sport that provokes so much controversy, where machinations and haggling happen as frequently as a tire change; where the paddock is a place of intrigue, deals; where the twenty F1 drivers are equally playboys or eccentrics; where danger lurks around every corner.

Shall Break point making tennis as cool as Formula 1 became cool through the documentary? Does the documentary attract youthful viewers to tennis like watchers of Drive to survive watching F1 races now? That is doubtful.

Tennis has also been looking desperately for years for solutions to make matches flashier / more modern / more TV-worthy. Matches can last for hours. The age of (particularly American) TV viewers has increased in recent years. The various tennis federations stumble over each other, who look more at self-interest than tennis in general future proof to make. Hardly likely that Break point immediately turns that unwieldy tanker into an agile speedboat.

Break point, Netflix. The first five episodes can be viewed, the other five will be broadcast in June.

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