Tennis Channel Has Taken The French Open Hostage

Illustration for article titled Tennis Channel Has Taken The French Open Hostage
Photo: Cameron Spencer (Getty)

The fan experience of tennis has become exponentially richer with the advent of streaming. When a draw has 128 entrants, like the singles events at all four Grand Slams, its early days are stuffed with matches, and no single live broadcast can depict all the action worth watching. It’s an obsolete model, a total bottleneck. But if your cable bundle includes ESPN2 (or your former roommate’s mother-in-law’s does) you can tune in to the Australian Open, Wimbledon, or U.S. Open, and toggle between any of the ongoing matches as you wish. Not when it comes to the French Open, though.


Due to the totally fractured nature of tennis broadcasting—that’s a whole seminar for another time—the second Grand Slam event of the year wasn’t so lucky. Tennis Channel and NBC split the spoils, with the former taking most of the early-round coverage. In the channel’s hands, the clay major makes for difficult viewing, even for those people who are actively seeking it out.

If you do happen to have Tennis Channel in your cable package, you will be at the mercy of whatever Tennis Channel decides to broadcast at the given moment. If you’re lucky, it’ll be tennis. At time of writing, it’s Mary Carillo doing a thoughtful segment about a mime. Carillo is wonderful, but this segment is less time-sensitive than, say, No. 2 seed Sascha Zverev’s dogfight or No. 4 seed Grigor Dimitrov sitting one set from elimination. The mime can wait. So too can interviews with bemused NHL players who happened to stop by the French Open just because they were in Paris with their girlfriends. It’s fine to just show the tennis. There’s a lot of it being played.

When the main Tennis Channel broadcast is displaying live tennis, it’s not necessarily good tennis. Due to a misplaced sense of patriotism, you’ll often have to watch random Americans get wrecked while marquee names toil away in obscurity. What, if any, segment of the American viewing public cares enough about tennis to watch the early days of the French Open and yet insists on only keeping up with the American players? Who resides in this Venn diagram overlap? (Please reach out so I can understand your brain.) Despite often hiring keen analysts to describe the tennis being played, the channel consistently squanders their insight on the least interesting and most American tennis on display. There are plenty of possible criteria for what makes a watchable tennis match: quality of play in an absolute sense, evenly matched competition, personal rivalry, or comeback narratives. It is unclear if “being from Long Island” belongs on that list.

Maybe you don’t want to be shackled to the whims of the Tennis Channel programming director. Subscribe to Tennis Channel Plus, a separate, expensive subscription service, and you’ll finally be able to toggle between the courts, like the WatchESPN option. For some reason, however, if you subscribe to Tennis Channel Plus, you don’t get access to the original Tennis Channel broadcast—just for good measure.

Does all this sound reasonable? Great. Thanks to tennis for making one of the four biggest events in its sport frustrating for enthusiasts and basically impenetrable to the casual observer. Please free the French Open.