The tennis world returns to the red clay of Roland Garros and Tennis Channel, ESPN2, NBC and DirecTV will be on the scene throughout the fortnight, beginning in Paris on May 23.
Will Rafa Nadal regain the throne or can Roger Federer defend his crown against the resurgent Spaniard? Meanwhile, the Williams sister, Serena and Venus, are ranked first and second in the world. But will Justine Henin's comeback culminate in the former top-ranked female player winning on the dirt, her favorite surface?
Televising its 10th Grand Slam tournament since gaining the rights to French Open in 2007, Tennis Channel will lead the way in Paris in terms of breadth and depth of coverage, all of which will be produced in the high-definition format. The network -- in front of more than 50 million cable, satellite and telco homes with its free view of the French -- will carry 77 hours of live coverage during its fourth year in Paris, not including same-day repeats of the men's and women's singles semifinals.
Typically, Tennis will present seven hours of live match play each day, from 5 a.m. to noon (ET), with coverage continuing through the men's and women's quarterfinals. For a fourth year, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova are back as lead on-air analysts. They will be joined by new correspondent Lindsay Davenport, the three-time Grand Slam singles winner who reached the French Open semifinals in 1998.
Ted Robinson, Ian Eagle and former player Leif Shiras will have the play-by-play calls, working in conjunction with Tennis Channel's long-running team of analysts and former players Katrina Adams, Justin Gimelstob, Barry MacKay and Corina Morariu.
The network's coverage is highlighted by quarterfinals action on June 1-2 from 8 a.m. to noon and the men's doubles semifinals the following day. Tennis also will have same-day encores of the women's and men's singles semifinals on June 3 (1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.) and June 4 (5 p.m. to midnight)
NBC has the U.S. broadcast rights to the top-end matches, including its "café and croissant" coverage of the women's and men's singles titles on June 5 and 6 at 9 p.m.
Tennis' primetime show, French Open Tonight, will air each evening with anchor Bill Macatee and Tennis Channel's signature set overlooking the tournament's famed Musketeer Plaza. The nightly three-and-a-half-hour show will offer interviews, highlights, analysis, encore match replays and coverage from in and around the City of Light. Macatee will play host to an array of tennis personalities, including players, coaches, agents, tennis-industry representatives, past champions, Hall of Famers and other notables.
French Open Tonight is scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. each evening, and will immediately encore twice in its entirety, concluding with the start of the following day's live match play at 5 a.m. All told, Tennis Channel will show more than 140 hours of the nightly show, with 42 hours of first-run airings.
ESPN2, which gained rights to the French Open from Tennis Channel in exchange for giving the independent access to match coverage from the first major, the Australian Open, picks up the action at noon, generally running through 6:30 p.m. Tennis Channel will produce all coverage for both channels, with each making use of its own on-air teams.
Cliff Drysdale, the doyenne of ESPN's tennis team, will be joined by Darren Cahill, Mary Carillo, Mary Joe Fernandez, Brad Gilbert, Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver. Chris Fowler will host and call matches for the first week, before leaving for South Africa and ESPN's coverage of the FIFA World Cup). Chris McKendry will also serve as an on-site host and Tom Rinaldi will provide features and reporting.
After the opening day, ESPN2's schedule continues Tuesday May 25 through Friday, May 28, and resumes on Memorial Day May 31 through June 3, with live coverage of the women's semifinals from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For its part, Spanish-language network ESPN Deportes will televise 25 hours from Paris starting May 25, and culminating with the women's semifinals live on June 3. Luis Alfredo Alvarez, Javier Frana, and Jose Luis Clerc will call the matches, chosen specifically for the network's audience.
Meanwhile, DirecTV continues its run of interactive Grand Slam tennis coverage, beginning May 23. Its exclusive "French Open Experience" will proffer more than 350 hours during the first eight days of the tournament through May 30.
With coverage provided by ESPN2 and Tennis Channel, the DBS leader's exclusive French Open Mix channel (No. 701) will return in HD, allowing fans to simultaneously view up to six live matches, including the featured match on the Tennis Channel or ESPN2. DirecTV subscribers can highlight each cell to listen to the live audio feed, and tune to each match full screen. On each court channel, viewers will have instant access to live scores, a look at current and upcoming matches, match results and the men's and women's draw.
DirecTV officials said the popularity of interactive TV features continues to grow, citing usage data from its Australian Open Experience in January. Compared with the 2009 tourney, overall viewers rose 32%, interactive application users grew more than 29%, and application impressions improved by more than 46%.
Average daily viewing time was more than 106% higher among app users over non-app users during the Australian, with cumulative viewing time ahead nearly 344% greater among app users.
As to other advanced services, Tennis and broadband service ESPN3.com will both stream a bevy of matches from Roland Garros.
Tennischannel.com will feature 125 matches and some 200 hours over the first 10 days of the French Open. Visitors will be able to view any one of five courts for the first eight days of the event, followed by a single court on days nine and 10. The site will also offer interview archives from French Open Tonight, news, live scores, daily highlights, exclusive tournament photos, blogs, columns, sweepstakes information and the network's "Racquet Bracket" tournament prediction game.
ESPN3.com will deliver more than 270 hours live from the three primary courts at Roland Garros on the days ESPN2 is televising the tennis action. The former ESPN360.com also will show matches from a number of courts not televised on ESPN2, as well as the ESPN2's programming, either live or later that day. Matches will also be available after they take place via video on demand.
Still called ESPN360.com in Latin America, the service will make the same programming available as in the U.S. with Spanish-language commentary.