Who's commentating on the commentators? I tried, but that was the best pun I could come up with. Below I'll look at the three different television outlets that showed the 2012 French Open and discuss their positives, negatives, and unexplainable aspects.
Tennis Channel: C
I'm going to start with Tennis Channel, the channel every tennis fan seems to want to have but few do. The French Open is the only major they have significant rights to, and so they bring out all of their stops. For the vast majority of tennis tournaments that Tennis Channel shows, they rely on the international feed and announcers that come with it. They have used their own announcers for tournaments such as the World Tour Finals, but other than that, it's all outsourced. Not so at the French Open. They bring their own stable of announcers, mostly borrowed from NBC, but some other talent. As for their graphics, their video packages and intro stuff was solid, but their in game graphic showing the score to me was bland. A bit minor, but the reason I gave them a C was the fact it almost seemed like everyone tried too hard. We'll take a look at most of their on air talent
Ted Robinson and John McEnroe: D
They were TC's main pairing, and it's worth noting right off the bat that there was a noticeable difference between their work on TC and NBC. We'll discuss their work on NBC, but on TC they were insufferable. McEnroe was trying to be equal parts comedian and tennis commentator, and Robinson did nothing to reign him in. It reached the point in certain matches that I had to put it on mute for awhile to avoid listening to the prattling. And this is from a crew who is normally solid. It seemed as if on TC they were unhinged, and allowed to say anything they wanted. The result wasn't pretty.
Martina Navratilova and Mary Carillo: B
Martina is a very divisive analyst, but I thought this tournament she was on top of her game. Carillo was also, when she was discussing the matches, very insightful. When she was discussing the matches. That leads us to this.
"Chicks on Bricks" with Mary Carillo and Renee Stubbs: F---
That was the worst tennis related television I've ever seen in my life. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Not funny, not insightful, not worth watching. Stubbs was good as a court side reporter, but wow that was terrible.
Brett Haber and Justin Gimelstob: B-
They were the second ranked team on the men's side, and I was extremely impressed with Brett Haber. He had a great voice, and knew when to turn it up and down. Very professional. The only thing that brought him down was Gimelstob, who's somehow regressed as an analyst. He's difficult to listen to due to his over-exuberance and simply bad analysis. He has a penchant for also saying dumb things, like when he implied that the reason Hawk-Eye was inaccurate on the clay was due to the dirt spraying up after the ball hit it. That's actually a ridiculous statement. Still, Haber was great.
ESPN tennis, the home to all four grand slams, is the epitome of a professionally run organization. The graphics are always spectacular, the visoe packages tremendous, and most of the analysts are great. One major problem that keeps ESPN from getting an A in my book, and we'll get to that in a bit. With TC's lower budget, and NBC's seeming unwillingness to show live tennis, I for one am extremely glad to have ESPN broadcasting the entire tournament at Wimbledon. Very much looking forward to it
Chris Fowler, Patrick McEnroe: A+
They're simply the best pairing in tennis. On point, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. Just great. I want them calling every men's match. More so than John McEnroe and Ted Robinson.
Brad Gilbert, Darren Cahill: A
Gilbert is also a controversial figure, and the past few years I've had a somewhat negative view of hm. He's definitely grown on me the past year, however, and I thought this tournament was his best. He's only getting better, which is rare for analysts. Cahill, the Australian, is tremendous, and it's obvious he has a great eye for the sport. When he's with Patrick McEnroe and Chris Fowler, you're listening to the best team in tennis.
Mary Joe Fernandez, Pam Shriver: B-
They can be grating at times, but they have moments where they provide valuable insight to the tennis. Fernandez is better, but the woman who really drags down the broadcast makes both of them look very good
Chris Evert: F
She's awful, and what makes her awful is that everyone at ESPN seems to defer to her on everything. Her voice is a bit annoying, but that could easily be ignored if she wasn't a terrible analyst. It wasn't during this tournament, but during the 2012 Australian Open she actually made the statement "Maria Sharapova doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve". I laughed out loud, snorted in derision, then put her on mute. She also cannot stop talking about her accomplishments, in any context, and mostly prompted by her co-commentators. Navratilova does it a bit as well, but she's better because she uses it to give insight to the match at hand. Evert just seems to like reliving her career, and it doesn't add anything to the broadcast. Yes, Chrissie, now I know what you would have done here, but I have no clue what Sara Errani is doing or even should be doing in this situation. When she sticks to the players playing, she can give good analysis, and I've heard it. It's there, somewhere, but it's so tough to get through all of the awful noise.
NBC is NBC. They add gravitas to the proceedings, and they keep it simple with Ted Robinson, John McEnroe, and Mary Carillo. They have fewer matches, and their broadcast is exactly what you would expect from a major network. Everyone's complaint with NBC is their handling of the men's semifinals and their lack of live tennis for West Coast viewers. They only take one men's semi, and the other one is given to TC. They're universally disliked among tennis fanatics, but when it comes to the tennis itself, they are top-notch
Robinson, McEnroe, and Carillo: A-
For as hard as it is to listen to them on TC, Robinson and McEnroe bring their "A' game on NBC. Perhaps it's Carillo balancing it out, but McEnroe has time and time again shown that he has excellent insight into the players. Robinson is an excellent narrator, and Carillo is very happy to play third fiddle, providing analysis when necessary. Three person booths can be tricky, but they do it very well. My only complaint with them is when Carillo and McEnroe go off on a tangent and Robinson can't bring them back on topic. In the same vein, McEnroe will say some out-there things, and while Carillo might challenge him, Robinson never will. On TC this is most noticeable, and it's unbearable, but on NBC it happens much less frequently, but it still does, and it still is annoying.
Overall, the tennis at the 2012 French Open was lacking a bit, and the commentators reflected that. With the fragmented daily coverage, with TC taking half and ESPN the other half, it was tough for any one network to establish itself or give all of its analysts time to shine, and as a result the coverage was unequal. I would almost prefer to see one network, even TC, to grab all of the rights and see what they can do. Obviously I'd prefer if it was ESPN, as it is at the Australian Open and now at Wimbledon, but TC is capable and it'd be very interesting to see. Now we move on to Wimbledon, which is a bit more high profile here in the States, and we'll see how ESPN will handle all of the coverage. For the first time in a very long time, NBC won't be broadcasting an hour of tennis at Wimbledon. It's ESPN's time to shine.