TV REVIEW: Move over BBC, tennis has a new hero and maybe a new home too – after slick Amazon Prime Video and Channel 4 shared broadcast of Emma Raducanu’s stunning US Open triumph on Saturday night
When we watch sports, does it really matter who comments, analyzes or presents?
The unscripted drama of live sports is what a global audience of millions tunes into. Some have even been known to stand outside television store windows in the rain to catch a glimpse of live action.
Still, it was somewhat new that one of the greatest tennis events in living memory was not at Wimbledon’s BBC home, but the relatively obscure Amazon Prime Video, in a unique shared broadcast with Channel 4.
Emma Raducanu won the US Open on Saturday in the most incredible unlikely triumphs
The match aired on Amazon Prime Video and uniquely shared with Channel 4
But it worked – apart from the lack of sound for the first minute or so on C4 – boy did it.
US Open TV directors are usually obsessed with star-spotting close-ups, but for lack of too many/no A-listers, two teenage actors rightly took center stage. And what a drama it was.
The Amazon Prime Video team’s tennis production unit is located in Stockley Park.
It was a wonder they didn’t take Mike Dean out of his VAR match duties in the Arsenal v Norwich match to give his opinion on the ever-excellent referee Marijana Veljovic’s decision to give Radacanu a medical time out while she was serving for the contest.
The slick set and the power of greenscreen technology make it hard to believe that presenter Catherine Whitaker and her team were everywhere but New York.
Host Catherine Whitaker (R) alongside Greg Rusedski (L) and Anne Keothavong (center)
Sorry to let the daylight in on magic there, but that didn’t stop experienced and knowledgeable tennis announcer Whitaker sounding less excited about the night ahead than if she were playing in the final herself.
In fairness to Whitaker, she has guided us night owls through Radacanu’s route to the finals since the qualifying rounds and is deeply invested in the sport well beyond the nationalistic fervor it was almost impossible to avoid leading up to one of the greatest sporting fairy tales ever.
The WhatsApp pings were just as relentless as the pre-match superlatives, but as a learned friend noted: ‘This makes Leicester win the Premier League, it seems normal.’ Sorry, Gary Lineker.
Sitting next to her in the studio was the excellent Anne ‘Annie’ Keathavong, the former UK No. 1 and longtime follower and advisor to Radacanu.
Grinning fellow ever-present expert Greg Rusedski is a consummate television performer these days, and he was able to tell us what it was like to be a British US Open finalist, who also happened to be a Canadian born. He’s just as likeable and enthusiastic, but no, he still hasn’t lost the accent.
Mark Petchey (L) and Martina Navratilova (R) commented the match live from New York
In New York, Amazon and C4 viewers (it was literally the same frame by frame on both channels), things took a level up when Martina Navratilova sat in the commentary box next to the improving British player turned commentator Mark Petchey.
Martina admitted before the match: ‘I don’t want to act crazy, but I’ve never seen anything like it.’
Tiger Tim Henman was so cool on the pitch and has had the added quality of being Radacanu’s lucky charm throughout the tournament. Radacanu’s coach Andrew Richardson, we learned, was also Henman’s best man, so he had some inside info.
Petchey went to Henman for a recap after the first set and we were told to settle for a three setter. What does he know!
Petch commented ‘we have a good match on our hands.’
Tim Henman was on the side of the field the entire game and then interviewed Raducanu
Raducanu poses with the trophy next to defeated finalist Leylah Fernandez on Arthur Ashe
But he had less time for those in the crowd of the world’s largest tennis stadium.
He wryly commented, “this is the finale that has everyone hooked” as the camera pulled back from a lingering close-up on a group of well-dressed women who resembled, or may have been, the Real Housewives in New York City, all engrossed taken by their cell phones, next to their glasses of champagne.
However, they were ahead of the curve as the corks probably blasted through the tennis-loving country and no doubt the London teams at the Amazon and C4 HQs.
Move over BBC, tennis has a new hero and maybe a new home too.