Tennis Commentators Talk Way Too Much & Say Little

By Jane Voigt

ESPN commentators at Wimbledon talk way too much. And let’s face it, all that chatter is not necessary or, in most cases, enlightening.

Take Chris Evert. Bless her 18-Grand-Slam-title heart, but, oh boy, can she rattle on. What’s most annoying about her comments? Many are inane. 

Here is a scattering of Chrissie’s on-air remarks from the third-round match between Americans CoCo Vandeweghe and Alison Riske. 

  • “She’s really kept the drama down,” as Vandeweghe smacked her head with her racquet.
  • “She’s almost subdued out there.”
Alison Riske at The Volvo Car Open this spring. Photo credit Leslie Billman

First of all, Vandeweghe is never subdued on court. Even without the theatrics the six-foot-one Californian seems as if she’s a moment away from a monumental breakdown where she’d smash racquets and scatter ball kids to all ends of The All England Club out of fear while polluting the air with offensive language. But, she’s an American in England. Evert wants to do well by the Americans, being one herself. Natch! But that doesn’t mean she should sound parental and forgiving. 

Nonetheless Vandeweghe (No. 24) defeated Riske 6-2, 6-4 to move into week two, a prestigious spot for any player, and where she bottomed out in 2016. She’ll meet Caroline Wozniacki (No. 5) on Monday, when all 32 fourth-round matches will be played.

Now for some nonessential Evert comments from the match between world number one, Angelique Kerber, and Shelby Rogers. 

  • “Kerber doesn’t have to go for broke. She just has to find her ‘A’ game.”
  • “The player that dictates and controls the point will win this match.”
  • “I want her [Rogers] to slap her thigh or something. To show us she wants to win this match.”
  • “I like Kerber’s attitude now. She’s a little bit more into it.”
  • “She’s [Kerber] starting to hit those crouching forehands, which she’s famous for.”
  • “Again, Shelby Rogers knows what she has to do, but can she do it?”
  • “She [Kerber] never gave up. Looked like she was running out of steam, out of motivation. But she wasn’t.”

Top prize goes to, “She’s starting to hit those crouching forehands, which she’s famous for.” 

Angelique Kerber meets 2016 French Open Champion Garbine Muguruza on Monday at Wimbledon. Photo credit Leslie Billman 

First, Kerber’s not famous for those shots because a multitude of women do the crouching forehand thin and the backhand thing, for that matter. But in Chrissie’s world if you see it, it’s unique to that player. This not only makes her sound uninformed, which, by the way, is true, but dated. Like John McEnroe, the two come from another era of tennis – 1970s and 1980s. No one in their right mind used a crouching anything back then. They were to focused on ball placement and getting to the net. 

Another thing … Shelby Rogers is not demonstrable on court. Once in a while she’ll go for the ‘come-on’ cry, but slapping her thigh … well, not really. That’s Kerber’s gig. 

And all that about Kerber finding her ‘A’ game? Nope. All a player needs to do is win. It can be done ugly or it can be done by, as Evert said, finding that perfect game Kerber’s executed in the past. But Kerber’s relationship with her world number one ranking hasn’t been the best. She’s struggled with its weight. It messes with her head. But today, she did fight for the win coming back from a break down in the second set, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4. 

Kerber’s was the 2016 runner-up to Serena Williams. The German one-seed is defending 1600 points. If she had lost today she would have lost her top ranking. Fighting when tactics, strategies and your mind aren’t 100% is what a champion does, but Kerber didn’t do it with her ‘A’ game. 

Shelby Rogers had never won a main draw match at Wimbledon until this year. She lost today in the third round, losing to top-seed Angelique Kerber. Photo credit Leslie Billman 

Evert, too, loves to talk about herself and her tennis career. It’d be okay if she’d relate it to the current match she’s calling, but more times she is just pridefully reminiscing about the good ole days when she was queen of the court. The dialogue today was exacerbated by Cliff Drysdale, too, her partner in ESPN commentator crime. He’d ask Evert questions that ignited her memories. Like partners in a dance contest they sailed around their narrative, leaving viewers adrift.

Brad Gilbert’s a chatty guy, too, but at least he doesn’t talk about himself and his career. Granted it was nothing like Evert’s, but there’s a sense from Gilbert that he knows not to go there because he’ll lose viewers and get ripped on by his buddies in the booth. 

“What a beauty,” Gilbert started, calling the last moments of the 5-set thriller between Frenchmen victor Adrian Mannarino and Gaels Monfils. “He just curves it up the line. Rafa would’ve been proud of that one.”

Useful information. Not really. But Gilbert kept his excitement pinned to the match at hand and didn’t ramble on about how he, probably, never hit anything close to what Mandarin accomplished today. Amen and thank you.

If viewers tire of the babble, the same sort of drivel heard from baseball commentators for sure, then they have alternative ways to watch: or, if you’re lucky, AppleTV or other media streamers: Roku, Chromecast, Amazone Fire. Those broadcasts are moderated by non-essential ESPN commentators. You’ll recognize some voices this week, for example, Kim Clijsters. Her insight is has been focused on the match, not on filling air time. 

And, finally, there’s always the mute button. That’s a interesting experience because without audio fans see the points, as if anew. However, the sounds of the game — not those commentators mind you — the ball hitting the court and hitting players’ racquets is lost. 




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