Tennis' Grand Slam season throws in its first serve today (actually tomorrow in Melbourne), with ESPN and Tennis Channel acting as a doubles team with their coverage of the Australian Open.
For the first time, both ESPN and Tennis will provide coverage from all four Slams, with both networks on board to provide coverage not only from Down Under, but Roland Garros in Paris, the Wimbledon fortnight and finally the U.S. Open from Flushing Meadows in late summer.
DirecTV will also supply an unprecedented sweep of all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. The satellite leader, for the first time from the Australian Open, will integrate its interactive services with ESPN2 and Tennis Channel broadcasts, and feature its six screens-in-one Mix Channel
and a host of other interactive features during the first eight days of the tournament from Melbourne Park. Moreover, the interactive application, the Mix Channel and the five court channels will be in HD for the first time.
ESPN and its family of networks and Web sites begin its comprehensive coverage Sunday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2, while Tennis Channel gets in the game on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. Down Under, ESPN, which is televising the Australian for the 25th year, is the primary telecaster, scheduled to provide nearly 100 hours of primetime and overnight coverage on ESPN2, plus 57 more in afternoon encores.
Additionally, broadband ESPN360.com will offer more than 430 hours - all live from Melbourne, with users choosing between action on six courts.
For its part, Tennis Channel is scheduled to air more than 30 live or first-run hours during the two-week major, as well as the same-day repeats of the men's and women's singles semifinals and finals. During Tennis Channel's inaugural Australian Open in 2008, the network became the first in U.S. television to carry live or repeat telecasts of the men's and women's singles and doubles finals and mixed doubles championship.
In addition to comprehensive tournament telecasts, Tennis will return daily morning show Australian Open Today to U.S. viewers who are just getting a start on their daily activities as the action is coming to a close on the other side of the world. The network will air close to 75 original hours of the six-hour recap show, offering highlights, previously unseen matches, original features and more beginning each morning at 8 a.m. (ET).
On the court, Novak Djokovic looks to defend his crown on the men's side, while Roger Federer could equal Pete Sampras' record of 14 Slam titles with a win. The tourney marks the first time that Rafael Nadal will play in Melbourne as the world's top player. However, odds-makers have made Scotland's Andy Murray, who lost to Federer in Flushing Meadows last September, the favorite.
As for the women, defending champion Maria Sharapova, still recovering from shoulder woes, won't defend her crown. Jelena Yankovic is looking to solidify her No. 1 ranking with her first major title. Meanwhile, America's best hopes, per usual, rest with the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.
The Australian Open is part of Tennis Channel's Grand Slam multimedia alliance with ESPN2, which offers audiences a near round-the-clock tournament experience. ESPN2 is producing all Australian Open coverage for both networks, which will tout each other's fare and make use of their own commentators. The situation is reversed in Paris, where Tennis is the primary telecaster.
ESPN and Tennis engaged in an exchange of Australian and French Open rights in 2007, which also pertains to shared production and cross promotion. Both networks use their own on-air talent.
The networks also have rights to Wimbledon, with ESPN taking center stage. In New York, Tennis, in a deal reached last May, is sublicensing rights from ESPN.
The networks have supplanted USA, which opted not to renew its rights after 25 years. USA broadcast brethren NBC remains the broadcaster for Roland Garros and Wimbledon coverage, while CBS continues with the U.S. Open.