One Broadcaster’s RG Reaction: Certainty In A Time Of Uncertainty

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Tennis Channel commentator Ted Robinson planned to be at Indian Wells this fortnight to call main court matches at the BNP Paribas Open for the U.S. digital cable and satellite television network and to host annual tennis events for Bank of the West and BNP Paribas. That is, until it was cancelled by tournament organizers on the eve of qualifying due to a coronavirus outbreak in the palm desert county which includes Indian Wells.

“This year’s plan was to reunite me with John McEnroe for some tennis talk,” Robinson recently told Tennis TourTalk. “Sad to miss that chance – 2021?” 

Instead, Robinson found himself headed to Las Vegas, where he called a first-round PAC-12 men’s basketball tournament game between the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University, broadcast nationally in the United States on the PAC-12 Networks. However, the following day, not only was the remainder of the tournament cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, it immediately impacted all American professional and collegiate sporting events. By the weekend, nearly all sporting events worldwide were cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future.

Soon, the alarmist criticism Indian Wells initially received turned into applause as the tournament became recognized for its proactive behavior in calling off “the fifth Grand Slam.”

In an email interview Thursday, Robinson said, “Craziness struck last Thursday and it was a scramble to get home. With news breaking repeatedly (both in tennis and in other sports), it never seemed right to pass judgement until there was some settling.”

For Robinson, that moment came on Tuesday when it was announced that the French Open would be played – albeit at a different time of the year for the world’s premier clay-court tennis event. The 62-year-old native New Yorker called 19 French Open tournaments for NBC from 2000-2018. So, Paris has always been one of his favorite destinations on the tennis calendar each year. “At least in tennis, the Roland Garros decision was one moment of certainty,” he said.

Along with some of his fellow Tennis Channel broadcasters – including presenters Brett Haber and Steve Weissman and analyst Jon Wertheim – Robinson taped a brief commentary after French Open organizers announced Tuesday it was moving this year’s tournament out from its usual late May to early June dates to September 20 to October 4, meaning it would start just a week after the conclusion of the US Open. In his video commentary, Robinson said:

“My initial reaction was ‘Wow!’ Awesome. Why? Certainty. We’re living now amidst uncertainty. We’re living all of us with some level of fear – because we don’t know and none of us knows anything – and everything is uncertain. So, for this announcement … that was my reaction. Tennis gets its first injection of certainty in this unprecedented time. … I hope this Roland Garros announcement comes to pass. I hope it happens. For us right now to grasp on anything certain in these times is immensely valuable.”

Robinson, a longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay Area who calls college football and basketball for the PAC-12 Networks in addition to his work for Tennis Channel, was radio play-by-play announcer for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers from 2009 until 2018 and also a longtime Major League Baseball TV and radio broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants. Since 2000, Robinson has been with NBC, as a tennis play-by-play and Olympics swimming and diving commentator. In addition to all of his various assignments, he has been prepping for NBC’s coverage of this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. Indeed, Robinson is a broadcaster for all sporting seasons. But for now, it’s come to a sudden halt.

“Like thousands around the world whose livelihood is determined by the ‘event-based economy,’ we hurt right now,” said Robinson, “and only hope patience and care for each other will bring us to the other side whole.”

Barty plans to defend French Open title

Although reigning French Open champion Ashleigh Barty may not have gotten an advance heads up from Roland Garros tournament director Guy Forget about moving this year’s clay-court major back by four months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, she told the Australian Associated Press on Thursday she looks forward to the opportunity to defending her title in Paris this fall.

“I haven’t spoken to Guy Forget,” said Barty, “but I’m happy to play the tournament whenever it is scheduled.

“I hope I get the chance to defend my title in September – any opportunity to compete is something I’ll grab with both hands.”

Barty has been idle since losing to Petra Kvitova in the Qatar Open semifinals at Doha in February. However, once she returns, thanks to the freezing of the WTA Rankings, Barty will remain ranked No. 1 in the world.

“There are more important things going on in the world right now, though, and I will do whatever helps keep us all safe and healthy,” said Barty.

What they’re writing

Kelyn Soong, Washington City Paper sports editor: “Tennis is different from team sports in that professional players don’t make a base salary. Most players earn their income through prize money, and no matches can mean no income.” Soong interviewed Denis Kudla, 27, who is currently ranked No. 111 in the world – and in a better position than most – but it’s taken him time coming up on the professional tour to where his earnings exceed his expenses while competing. Kudla, from Arlington, Va., near Washington, D.C.,  has split his time between competing in ATP Tour-level and Challenger Tour tournaments. He told Soong, “We’re purely a commission-based job. No salary or anything. You work for anything you get. Until you’re at the highest level, it usually puts you in the negative. It’s a crazy dynamic.”

What they’re saying

Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, 2017 NCAA men’s singles champion from the University of Virginia now ranked No. 183, as quoted by Washington City Paper: “We are not employees of ATP – they love saying that – we are members. We are not entitle to anything, but I think they have some sort of responsibility to help us during this time. The guys ranked 100–plus need a little bit of help, whether financially or whatever kind of solution. I don’t know what the answer is. I feel like we’re in the dark.”

What they’re podcasting

Match Point Canada (Twitter: @MatchPointCAN), the official podcast of Tennis Canada, hosted by Ben Lewis and Mike McIntyre: This week’s guests include Canadian doubles star Gaby Dabrowski and and tennis writer Nina Pantic, who talk about preparing for life without ATP and WTA tennis until at least June 7.

Under Review Tennis Podcast (Twitter: @URwithCS) with Craig Shapiro features interviews with coaches, players and broadcasters. This week, two episodes have dropped; one features an interview with the “insightful, incisive and polarizing” Tennys Sandgren while the other features a chat with insightful British tennis broadcaster Mark Petchey.

What they’re tweeting

Stan Wawrinka

Alizé Cornet

Elise Mertens