Two men hope to take different shots at tennis' immortality over the next fortnight at the French Open.
All eyes, not to mention the cameras from Tennis Channel, ESPN2 and NBC, will be focused on Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Roland Garros tournament in Paris. Play begins on May 27 and concludes on June 10.
World No. 1 Djokovic has the 2011 Wimbledon and U.S. Open trophies on his mantle and added his third Australian crown in January. Now, he's looking to win at Roland Garros to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 -- albeit not in a calendar year -- to hold all four majors concurrently, a quest known in many quarters as the "Djoker Slam."
It's a Parisian play that eluded Pete Sampras in 1993 and 1994 and Roger Federer in 2006 and 2007. In the case of Federer, he made it all the way to the finals of the French Open twice, falling to his nemesis, the "King of Clay," Nadal.
In January 2011, Nadal himself was looking to win the Australian Open to secure four consecutive Grand Slams. His bid for the "Rafa Slam" succumbed to injury and fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarterfinals.
For his part, Djokovic mastered Melbourne for the second time that month, amidst a run that saw him win his first 43 matches in 2011 en route to reaching the sport's pinnacle after winning Wimbledon. However, the all-time Slam king Federer felled Djokovic in the semifinals at Roland Garros. Then, Fed, after squandering the first set, lost to Nadal in four, as the Majorcan claimed his sixth title in Paris, matching Bjorn Borg for the most French wins in the Open era.
So, the stakes are certainly historic at the clay court Grand Slam. Despite being seeded second, Nadal is the betting favorite on his preferred surface, particularly now that he has ended a skein of seven consecutive losses to Djokovic, including their epic battle in the 2012 Australian final, with a pair of clay-court triumphs in Monte Carlo and Rome. Djoker's title path appears tougher, with No. 3 Federer his potential semifinal opponent, while Nadal, who is 45-1 at Roland Garros, would face No. 4 Andy Murray in the penultimate round,should form hold.
On the ladies' side, world No. 1 and Australian Open queen Victoria Azarenka is looking to solidify her spot atop the sport. Third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska is a potential semifinal opponent, but defending champion, China's Li Na is in the bottom half of the draw, as are No. 5 Serena Williams, who carved out the "Serena Slam" in 2002-03, and second-ranked Maria Sharapova. The latter two could meet in the most marquee of quarterfinal clashes.
The women's field features three other former French champions -- Ana Ivanovic, Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova -- and the once-again-returning American, Venus Williams.
Regardless of how the action plays out on the terra battue, fans will have access to most of the action from NBC, Tennis Channel and ESPN. The broadcaster, whose 43-year Wimbledon reign ended in 2011 when it was outbid by ESPN, is jumping into the French a bit earlier than usual, airing first-day action from noon to 3 p.m. (ET). NBC's 20 hours of coverage, featuring Ted Robinson on play-by-play and John McEnroe and Mary Carillo in the analyst chairs, crescendos with men's semifinals on June 8 and its café and croissant coverage of the ladies' and men's championships the following two days (see schedule below). NBCSports.com will provide live streaming of the events.
Multimedia, double team cable partners Tennis Channel and ESPN2 provide the bulk of the coverage. Under a renewal of their alliance, Tennis and ESPN2 will reverse their Stateside scheduling with the latter putting in the first serve at 5 a.m. (ET), followed by the dedicated racquet network picking up the pace and extending its coverage into the afternoon.
Now in its sixth year of coverage from Paris, Tennis Channel will present almost 60 hours of live action and more than 140 match hours from Roland Garros in total. Through a free preview with a number of distributors, including Cox Communications, Verizon FiOS, DirecTV and Dish Network, Tennis will increase its distribution roster from 34 million subscribers to some 55 million during the fortnight.
A typical day's French Open schedule on Tennis Channel this year will showcase live matches from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (ET), followed by four hours of encore coverage of the tournament's best competitions, regardless of whether they first ran on Tennis Channel or broadcast partners NBC or ESPN.
At 7 p.m. French Open Tonight, hosted by Bill Macatee, will serve up three hours of interviews, analysis, highlights, encore match segments and special reports, set on a stage above the tournament's central Musketeer Plaza. All told, Tennis will air 36 first-run hours of the nightly prime-time show (with 114 hours overall). Following two consecutive French Open Tonight encores, at 4 a.m daily tournament highlights of the French Tennis Federation (the governing body of the event) will run for an hour before a new day of coverage runs on ESPN2 from 5 a.m.-10 a.m.
Among the highlights for Tennis, whose on-air talent roster includes McEnroe, Carillo, Robinson, Martina Navratilove, Lindsay Davenport, Ian Eagle, Brett Haber, Justin Gimelstob and Rennae Stubbs, are quarterfinal and men's semifinal presentations on June 5 and June 8, respectively. Tennis will also offer same-day encores of singles quarterfinal and semifinal matches, and encore coverage of the men's and women's championships after the close of play on the final Sunday (schedule below).
This year, tennischannel.com will make more than 300 hours of live matches available, an increase of more than 100 hours over 2011. Also new: online streaming will run from 5 a.m. through the end of the day's play, marking the first time broadband matches will be available live regardless of whether or not the competition is within Tennis' TV-coverage window. Viewers can access up to five courts at the same time during live windows the first week of the tournament and then view on-demand archived matches after play has stopped each evening.
The worldwide leader's ‘Net game will also be in play, with broadband service ESPN3 serving up 328 hours across a multiscreen offering of up to seven courts. ESPN2's coverage is also available via this online outlet on its coverage days. ESPN Mobile TV will have 51 hours of live coverage, simulcasting all of ESPN2's live programming, highlighted by the women's semifinals on June 7.
After the opening day in which ESPN2 will televise matches from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., the network's schedule will continue with an all-live telecast starting at 5 a.m. each day through Friday, June 1 and again on Monday, June 4. The network will air live quarterfinal action Tuesday, June 5, at 1 p.m. and Wednesday, June 6 at 8 a.m. As mentioned, ESPN2 will air the women's semifinals live Thursday, June 7 at 8 a.m. (schedule below) All the action on ESPN2 is also available through WatchESPN online at WatchESPN.com and on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app.
Chris Evert, who won the French a record seven times on the distaff side, will work Roland Garros for the first time since joining ESPN's team at Wimbledon 2011. Her boothmates: Chris Fowler, Chris McKendry, Darren Cahill, Mary Joe Fernandez, Brad Gilbert, Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver. The doyen of ESPN's tennis team, Cliff Drysdale, will be back next month for the programmer's inaugural, exclusive start-to-finish coverage of Wimbledon.
DirecTV's French Open Experience, conducted in partnership with Tennis Channel and ESPN, will deliver expanded HD coverage of all the action during the first nine days of the tournament.
Fans can watch up to six live matches at the same time on the French Open Mix Channel (Ch. 701 ), that includes the network broadcast (ESPN2 or Tennis Channel) and five bonus channels of outer court coverage. From the Mix, viewers can tune in directly to watch individual matches on any one of the separate channels (702-707) and press the red remote button to access an interactive menu of features that include:
*Match Guide: Scores from matches in progress on the court channels (Chs. 702-707), plus the schedule for upcoming matches;
* Recent results: Real-time scores for both in-progress and competed matches.
* Men's and women's draws: A complete round-by-round chart that shows which players are still in competition and how they got there.
French Open on NBC
Sunday, May 27 Noon - 3 p.m. ET First Round (Live)
Saturday, June 2 Noon - 3 p.m. ET Third Round (Live)
Sunday, June 3 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. ET Fourth Round (Live)
Friday, June 8 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. (all time zones) Men's Semifinals (Live ET)
Saturday, June 9 9 a.m. - Noon ET Women's Final (live)
Sunday, June 10 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. ET Men's Final (Live)
Tennis Channel's Live 2012 French Open Match Schedule
Sunday, May 27 10 a.m.-3 p.m. First-Round Action
Monday, May 28 10 a.m.-3 p.m. First-Round Action
Tuesday, May 29 10 a.m.-3 p.m. First-Round Action
Wednesday, May 30 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Second-Round Action
Thursday, May 31 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Second-Round Action
Friday, June 1 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Third-Round Action
Saturday, June 2 5 a.m.-Noon Third-Round Action
Sunday, June 3 5 a.m.-1 p.m. Round-of-16 Action
Monday, June 4 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Round-of-16 Action
Tuesday, June 5 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Quarterfinals
Friday, June 8 7 a.m.-11 a.m. Men's Semifinal
Tennis Channel will also offer same-day replays of singles quarterfinal and semifinal matches, and encore coverage of the men's and women's championships after the close of play on the final Sunday (ET):
Wednesday, June 6 - 1 p.m.-7 p.m.: men's and women's singles quarterfinals
Thursday, June 7 - 1 p.m.-7 p.m.: women's singles semifinals
Friday, June 8 - 5 p.m.-midnight: men's semifinals
Sunday, June 10 - 2 p.m.-6 p.m. and 8 p.m.-midnight: men's final; 6 p.m.-8 p.m.: women's final
2012 French Open on ESPN2 & ESPN2 HD
Sun, May 27 -Fri, June 1 5 - 10 a.m. Early Round Action Live
Mon, June 4 5 - 10 a.m. Round of 16 Live
Tue, June 5 1 - 7 p.m. Quarterfinals Live & Same-day action
Wed, June 6 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. Quarterfinals Live
Thur, June 7 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. Women's Semifinals Live
2012 French Open on ESPN3
Sun, May 27 - Fri, June 1 5 a.m. - 3 p.m. Early Round Action Live
Mon, June 4 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. Round of 16 Live
Tue, June 5 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. Quarterfinals Live
Wed, June 6 5 a.m. - 1 p.m. Quarterfinals Live
Thur, June 7 5 a.m. - 1 p.m. Men's Doubles Semis
Women's Semifinals Live