Devotees of Sky’s Monday Night Football may recognise the setting as the channel makes its return to tennis coverage over the coming fortnight with the US Open.
The MNF studio, fitted up with every gizmo going, is expected to be used for the initial part of an operation that will be split between London and New York. The broadcaster re-enters the sport’s orbit after exiting in the face of Amazon Prime’s greater financial firepower in 2018.
With the online retail giant reckoning that there were few more subscribers to be harvested from its involvement with the regular ATP and WTA Tours, the season’s final major is expected to be the precursor to Sky properly getting back into tennis, with a dedicated channel likely next year.
While Amazon’s comprehensive week-to-week coverage was good for the hardcore following, some will have found it difficult to locate, especially the less tech-savvy older audience — a significant constituency for tennis.
For Sky, this coming week is a return to one of its legacy events — as the US Open was one of the first sporting properties it had upon its launch in 1990.
The US Open is back, and with it, Sky’s coverage of tennis after exiting the sport in 2018
Emma Raducanu will be absent from the tournament but could become a serious contender for titles again
One recalls a young Richard Keys being in New York to help present its early offerings from Flushing Meadows.
The move has been in the offing for some time. I was asked by a senior Sky executive last summer how the future might pan out for Emma Raducanu, and replied that after a couple of rocky years she was likely to work a few things out for herself and become a contender again for serious titles (I still hold that view, although I am less convinced than before).
Two years on from her extraordinary triumph, the 20-year-old from Kent — now down to 186 in the rankings after losing her points from last summer — will not be in New York. There are, however, a few more encouraging signs that a return to action following three minor surgeries is not that far away, and she might even return before the end of the official season.
It has not, overall, been a vintage year for tennis, which was always possible during a time of transition.
Yet, Raducanu’s absence apart, the timing of Sky’s return could be fortuitous. The US Open is usually the most competitive of the Slams and there is a sense that the season is, belatedly, coming to the boil.
The brilliant Wimbledon final was the spark, and saved the SW19 fortnight from going down as another Novak Djokovic procession in the manner of the Australian Open. On Sunday night, in Cincinnati, Carlos Alcaraz and the Serbian great served up another cracker which suggests that the men’s side of the sport suddenly has a rivalry to transcend its traditional boundaries.
Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz’s Wimbledon final, which the Spaniard won, saved the tournament from being another procession – and now they have a rivalry
Sky’s Monday Night Football will be used initially – albeit with rather different branding!
A real bonus from that tournament was also the title charge of Coco Gauff, who beat Iga Swiatek en route. Still only 19, she is one of the few active women with a wide appeal and an American at that (apologies to world No 3 Jessica Pegula, but that is the reality).
For more parochial Brit consumption there should still be at least six GB singles players in the draw, including the fit-again Jack Draper. If Sky have done their homework, they will know that his rise ought to be swift once he gets a run of good health.
So there is much to look forward to, and Sky will broadcast 135 hours of the US Open on their main channels, with every court available to those who have the app. As the final leg of the 2023 Grand Slam relay, Sky will pick up the baton from the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage, which was widely perceived as having run a less-than-stellar third leg. Clearly, one of the problems the Beeb’s TV operation had at SW19 was the lack of thorough tennis knowledge and preparation among parts of its team, leading to sloppy factual mistakes.
That should not be a problem for the line-up assembled by Sky, who have signed a deal with the US Open running through to 2027.
Main presenter Gigi Salmon will be able to draw on the hard yards she has put in over the years covering tennis. There is also no lack of knowledge in one of the main commentators, former BBC radio correspondent Jonathan Overend.
Johanna Konta will play a role in Sky’s coverage of the tournament, with the first round beginning on August 28 and the qualifiers already underway
Laura Robson will also be on the team helping to provide coverage and analysis
Among others, there will be a prominent role for Jo Konta. While a player, the former British No 1 used to contort herself not to say anything of note unless something annoyed her, in which case she was capable of being extremely articulate with a strong command of language.
Other members of the team include Laura Robson, more capable than most of producing original thought, and Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who some may have found more interesting to look at than listen to during Wimbledon. Robson is part of an advance party who will be out in New York for the first week, with some pundits only appearing on-site from the middle Sunday onwards.
Sky will find that tennis has not addressed some of its turn-offs since it was last involved — aspects such as too much dead time during matches, endless ball bouncing before serves and the unwelcome increase in grunting.
However, the US Open has lost none of its ability to produce drama and surprises, and when tomorrow’s draw comes out there will be the promise of an almighty climax with Djokovic and Alcaraz seeded to meet again in the final.
Padel is pricy but easy to pick up but hard
One experience on holiday this month was going straight from the Padel court to the next-door tennis court for a hit.
It was a sharp reminder that the former racket pursuit is much easier to play at a certain level than the latter, and more user-friendly in terms of catering to those of different standards. Both were enjoyable in different ways, although for the first five minutes of tennis I struggled to land the ball inside the lines (it can happen at the best of times).
The two Padel courts where we were staying cost more than double to book than their tennis counterpart.
Padel can be an expensive game to get into but is growing in popularity as new courts open
At £25 per hour, Padel is certainly not cheap — although as that has to be split between four people, it could be argued that £6.25 each is not too steep. Either way, there was certainly no shortage of people wanting to play the squash-tennis hybrid.
For that reason, my inbox is likely to continue receiving a steady influx of releases announcing new Padel courts opening up in the UK.
But so far, in Cornwall at least, there is no sign of the racket sport culture wars as seen in the US between Pickleball and tennis.
British players are struggling post-Wimbledon – but congratulations to Ryan Peniston
A somewhat strange post-Wimbledon period for some of the Brits.
The reliable Cameron Norrie we have become accustomed to is struggling, with three straight first-round losses.
Dan Evans has largely had a summer to forget, although five first-round losses have been interrupted by him winning his most significant title yet, the 500-level event in Washington DC.
Congrats to Southend’s Ryan Peniston, who on Sunday won the £63,000 ATP Challenger tournament in the Canadian tennis outpost of Winnipeg.
Ryan Peniston, pictured at Wimbledon, has won the ATP Challenger tournament in Winnipeg