ESPN2, Tennis Serve Up 'Rafa Slam' Coverage At Australian Open

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Will a deep run at the "Rafa Slam" boost ESPN2's ratings from Down Under?
The answer will come over the next two weeks, as Rafa Nadal attempts to win the Australian Open and thus hold all four of tennis' major titles at once. If Nadal can unseat defending champion and all-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer and a host of other contenders, he will become the first man since the legendary Aussie Rod Laver in 1969 completed the second of his two calendar Slams to hold the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles consecutively. (The Rocket also aced a calendar Grand Slam in 1962.)

Such a run in Melbourne figures to boost ESPN2's Nielsens, despite the 16-hour difference between Australia and the East Coast in the U.S. and 19 hours to the Pacific time zone. For the 2010 tourney in which Federer topped Andy Murray on the men's side and Serena Williams beat Justine Henin in her return, ESPN2 averaged a 0.4 for its live coverage across various dayparts, up 6% from the 2009 fortnight. In primetime, the network scored a 6% advance to a 0.6 household average, with viewership ahead 10%, according to Nielsen data.

Nadal at Australian Open

"The Australian Open is a great opportunity for us to take matches from different dayparts and present them around the clock," said ESPN senior director of programming and acquisitions Jason Bernstein during a Jan. 14 conference call with reporters. "It's a unique event and time because we're able to show live coverage in East Coast and West Coast primetimes, as well as overnight sessions. For those who aren't up at 3:30 a.m., we have plenty of encore coverage."
All told, ESPN2 -- which is in the last year of its current deal, but has already inked a new 10-year extension with Tennis Australia, beginning with the 2012 tourney -- plans a record 124 live hours, plus nearly 50 additional afternoon encores, the most in its 27-year history with the Australian, which will crown a new women's champion. Williams will not be defend her crown, following a foot injury that has kept her off the court since winning Wimbledon last July.
In the only cable-exclusive Grand Slam in the States, ESPN2 begins its Australian match coverage on Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. (ET), before concluding matters with the women's and men's finals on Jan. 28-29 (live and encore) and Jan. 29-30 (live and replay), respectively. A full schedule is listed below.

ESPN2's schedule will generally consist of live action in the evening continuing uninterrupted for 10 or more hours until the next morning for the first eight days of the tournament, plus at least three hours of same-day action the next weekday afternoon at 3 p.m.
Veteran Cliff Drysdale, who has been with ESPN since its first tennis telecast in 1979, and the legendary Dick Enberg, will lead ESPN2's on-air coverage. Chris Fowler will again host and call select matches, with Chris McKendry also in host chair. Darren Cahill, Mary Joe Fernandez, Brad Gilbert and Patrick McEnroe return as analysts, as does Pam Shriver, who will primarily serve as a courtside and studio reporter. Tom Rinaldi will contribute features, news and interviews during event coverage and on SportsCenter.
Coverage will be enhanced by ESPN2's use of the "spider cam" it unveiled at Ashe Stadium at the 2010 U.S. Open.
"Working with Tennis Australia and Seven Network, we've successfully installed the hardware in Laver Arena," said ESPN vice president of event production of Jamie Reynolds during the Jan. 14 conference call. "It will be the most visually different aspect of our coverage from Australia this year, helping viewers gain a better sense of size and scope."
Suspended by four thin Kevlar ropes connected to large winches via pulleys high above the court surface on light poles at the four corners of the arena, the aerial camera moves in three dimensions. It can be lowered to one meter or raised to 33 meters, from beyond one end of the court to the other and from side to side. The camera can pan, tilt, zoom and focus, with the images sent via fiber optics wiring within the Kevlar roping. Reynolds said spider cam will bring watchers closer to the action and the players during walk-ons, changeovers, coin tosses, ceremonies and post-match interviews, as well as with replays and live action.
ESPN also has the Down Under action covered on other platforms. Broadband service ESPN3.com will offer 600 live hours, with users choosing between matches on seven courts. All of that action is available on-demand after their completion.

Speaking of VOD, ESPN is presenting an array of programming before, during and after the tournament, starting with the 2011Australian Open Preview Show. Highlights of past finals are available through Feb. 15 (men's from 1995, 2009, and 2010 and women's from 2010). A recap of this year's women's and men's finals will also be offered through mid-February.

Rod Laver at Laver Arena

ESPN Interactive TV, accessibile on DirecTV and ESPN3.com, will present Australian action via a six-screen "mix channel." During the first eight days of the event, subscribers can watch eight hours nightly of the ESPN2 feed or one of five other courts, all with commentary. Features include interactive data, the tournament draw, up-to-date scores, and daily order of play.
Wireless service ESPN Mobile TV will volley 140 hours of live and simulcast coverage with ESPN2's programming schedule.

As mentioned above, the Australian is part of ESPN's ongoing Grand Slam alliance with Tennis Channel, which offers audiences a near round-the-clock tournament experience at the sport's' major events. ESPN is producing all Australian Open coverage for both networks, which will cross-promote each other with each channel utilizing its own commentators.
Tennis is scheduled to present close to 30 hours of live match play over the fortnight, beginning with the initial day of play through the singles quarterfinals, doubles championships and mixed-doubles final. The dedicated service will again televise same-day encore coverage of the men's and women's singles semifinals and finals in primetime (ET), as part of its 70 total hours of live and encore coverage.

By adding the men's and women's encore singles finals to its live doubles championship coverage, the channel will air all five Australian Open finals, as it has done each year since 2008, when it became the first American television network to carry every one of these events.
Morning show Australian Open Today aims to give Stateside viewers a sense of what happened on the other side of the world while they were asleep. The six-hour show will begin at 8 a.m. most mornings with encore and unseen matches, highlights, original features and more. All told, Tennis Channel will air 75 hours of Australian Open Today during the tournament. (See schedule below)
Tennis' coverage is led by Bill Macatee, who will handle the network's play-by-play responsibilities for the fourth-consecutive year. Martina Navratilova, who just re-upped her contract with Tennis, will again serve as the network's lead Grand Slam analyst.

Leif Shiras and Justin Gimelstob will also return to Melbourne, handling play-by-play and analysis roles, respectively, with the latter also supplying occasional features. Lindsay Davenport, who also inked a new, expanded contract with Tennis, will be on hand for her first year of Australian Open coverage for the channel.
Tennis is also on court from multimedia perspectives.The network's Web site, www.tennischannel.com, will bring real-time scoring, video highlights, interviews and Australian Open Today features to online visitors this tourney. There will also be blogs and columns from the network's usual stable of writers -- Steve Flink, Joel Drucker and James LaRosa -- along with newcomer David Rosenberg, a longtime tennis-industry reporter.
Moreover with the network's interactive Australian Open draw, visitors can also enter for a chance to win a trip to the 2012 Australian Open and play its exclusive "Racquet Bracket" tournament prediction game, with a $1,000 prize package from Wilson Sports and Midwest Sports.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2011 on ESPN2 HD
(All times are Eastern, and each day "begins" at 6 a.m. ET.

Sun, Jan 16 6:30 p.m. - 3 a.m. Early round play LIVE
3 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Mon, Jan 17 3 - 6 p.m. " Same-day
9 p.m. - 3 a.m. " LIVE
3 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Tue, Jan 18 3 - 7 p.m. " Same-day
9 p.m. - 3 a.m. " LIVE
3 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Wed, Jan 19 3 - 7 p.m. " Same-day
11 p.m. - 3 a.m. " LIVE
3 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Thur, Jan 20 3 - 7 p.m. " Same-day
11 p.m. - 3 a.m. " LIVE
3 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Fri, Jan 21 3 - 7 p.m. " Same-day
9 p.m. - 3 a.m. " LIVE
3 - 7:30 a.m. " LIVE
Sat, Jan 22 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. " Same-day
9 p.m. - 3 a.m. " LIVE
3 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Sun, Jan 23 1 - 5 p.m. " Same-day
7 p.m. - 3 a.m. Round of 16 LIVE
3:30 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Mon, Jan 24 3 - 7 p.m. " Same-day
9 p.m. - 2 a.m. Quarterfinals LIVE
3:30 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Tue, Jan 25 3 - 7 p.m. " Same-day
7 p.m. - 2 a.m. " LIVE
3:30 - 8 a.m. " LIVE
Wed, Jan 26 3 - 7 p.m. " Same-day
9:30 p.m. - 2 a.m. Women's Semifinals LIVE
3:30 - 6 a.m. Men's Semifinal #1 LIVE
Thurs, Jan 27 3 - 6 p.m. Men's Semifinal #1 reair
3:30 - 6 a.m. Men's Semifinal #2 LIVE
Fri, Jan 28 3 - 6 p.m. Men's Semifinal #2 reair
3 - 5:30 a.m. Women's Final LIVE
Sat, Jan. 29 9 - 11 a.m. Women's Final reair
10 p.m. - MID Women's Final reair
3 - 6:30 a.m. Men's Final LIVE
Sun, Jan 30 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Men's Final reair
7 - 10 p.m. Men's Final reair

Tennis Channel's Live Australian Open Match Schedule
Date Time (ET) Event
Monday, Jan. 17 7 p.m.-9 p.m. First-Round
Tuesday, Jan. 18 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Second-Round
Wednesday, Jan. 19 7 p.m.-11 p.m. Second-Round
Thursday, Jan. 20 7 p.m.-11 p.m. Third-Round
Friday, Jan. 21 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Third-Round
Saturday, Jan. 22 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Round of 16
Monday, Jan. 24 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Women's Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Jan. 26 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m. TBA
Thursday, Jan. 27 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Women's Doubles Final
Saturday, Jan. 29 5:30 a.m.-7:30 a.m. Men's Doubles Final
Sunday, Jan. 30 12:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Mixed Doubles Final

Tennis Channel's Australian Open Today Schedule
Australian Open Today airs Monday, Jan. 17-Friday, Jan. 28.
The program generally runs from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. ET.
Exceptions are (all times ET):
Saturday, Jan. 22 - 1 p.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 23 - 8 a.m.-1 p.m. (5 p.m.-7 p.m. encore)
Thursday, Jan. 27 - 6 a.m.-2 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 28 - 6 a.m.-2 p.m.

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