To Really Enjoy The French, Be British

I can barely hold a tennis racquet correctly, but I truly do love the sport, particularly as a backdrop during working hours.  These days, that’s a loose definition, but I digress.

For many years, long before ESPN got rights and before The Tennis Channel was born, a nascent HBO picked up U.S. rights to BBC Television coverage of Wimbledon tennis.  For the first time, U.S. viewers got a taste of day-long coverage of live championship tennis.  It was exceptionally popular with New York ad agencies and media salespeople; my office actually worked out a deal with its cable provider to subscribe to HBO so we could enjoy the matches in our break room or, if you were me, during lunch hours.  As other Grand Slam tournaments began to evolve their rights, the all-access model was copied and expanded. The three Grand Slam tournaments ESPN covers–the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open–have multiple court feeds readily available via ESPN Plus.  But the French Open remains a holdout, sticking to a decades-old relationship with NBC Sports for weekend coverage and The Tennis Channel for weekday coverage.  While those matches on NBC are now available via Peacock, Tennis Channel’s streaming options are incremental and, for me, beyond my budget these days.

And if you Google your options, you land on this article from MASHABLE’s Christina Buff, who provides you with a playbook for essentially lying your way into free video:

There are multiple free live streams of the 2023 French Open available, but there’s just one problem for U.S.-based fans: you must be in a different country to access them. Luckily, there’s a workaround. You can access global streaming platforms from anywhere in the world — all you need is a quality VPN.  

You can acquire the most popular option, ExpressVPN, for as little as $6.67 a month for a 15-month subscription.  That’s the same company that’s a regular sponsor of almost every alt-right media program or site I occasionally check out.   You know, to appeal to those that believe the government is looking to track us with a digital chip that was contained in COVID 19 vaccines?  Sorry, but no thank you.

So I choose to listen the free audio coverage available on the tournament’s Roland website, named for the historic Parisian venue the fortnight of the sport’s second Grand Slam eminates from.  Following the lead of Wimbledon, it provides English-language commentary from BBC Radio 5 Live Sport, with commentators that are both informative and entertaining.  They snark, they excitedly escalate their voices as volleys accelerate, they read e-mails from fans around the world. in time zones ranging from morning drive to happy hour to nightlight.  And honestly, I don’t miss video one bit.

It may be odd and actually a bit backward for someone to prefer audio these days, and I admit that I’m in some ways old school.  But when you drive for a living, you’re especially eager to find options that favor sound over pictures, and the British seem to have a far better flair for sports like soccer, tennis and cricket than we Yanks do.  The conversational style is much like how baseball used to be covered, particularly by veteran announcers.  But there are scant few of those these days in baseball as more and more teams choose to hire younger, vocally interchangeable minor leaguers who can read the stats and the spots but offer little else.  I do listen to the likes of the Mets’ Howie Rose, the Dodgers’ Rick Monday and the Yankees’ venerable Ma and Pa Pinstripe–John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman–but they’re all aging and traveling less.  So even my baseball habit is changing.

With the French Open and no affordable, readily available non-cable option, the BBC announcers are a comfortable throwback to those HBO break room days.  Listeners learn a lot about the backstories of the players and they describe in vivid detail what they see in the crowd–fans covered by blankets, reactions to disputed calls, and actually report follow-ups from more attentive e-mailers.  It’s truly immersive and interactive.  And I actually wind up becoming more informed and invested, particularly at a time when the leading players are changing.  I mean, did YOU know who Thiago Seyboth Wild was before he pulled off a five-set upset of #2 men’s seed Daniel Medvedev earlier today?  Well, thanks to my British friends, now I do.

Call me an old fogey or overly sentimental, but I’m more than fine with audio for this fortnight.  And I’m sure my old Tennis Channel friends will forgive me.  If they ever return the dozen phone calls about the multiple jobs they promised to get back to me on three years ago.

So maybe there are other reasons I prefer to listen to the French Open.  Guilty as charged.



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