By Owais Majid
In my first piece for Popcorn Tennis, I wrote about how, as a blind tennis fan, it was my love of tennis commentary on the radio that wed me to this sport.
In that piece, I touched briefly on the many perks of being blind. I’ll elaborate on that a little here.
Firstly, were I not blind I’d be unlikely to stumble upon the joys of tennis, and by extension sport in general, on the radio. I’m sure there’s plenty I’m missing out on as far as watching it on the TV is concerned, but I’m inclined to live in a state of blissful ignorance to this for the most part, and this is as much down to circumstance as it is to design.
It’s not only sport where being blind is great. Take, for instance, the amount of jokes one can make at their own expense. Self-deprecating humour is often the best type of humour and being blind gives you ample opportunity to demonstrate said humour. Whether it’s a simple “Sorry, I wasn’t watching where I was going” as I clumsily bump into a flustered passer by in a busy street, or a less than complimentary remark about my own sporting capabilities or anything besides, I have made myself the butt of countless jokes and wouldn’t have it any other way.
And don’t even get me started on the amount of queues I’ve been able to jump, despite doing nothing at all to deserve it.
I say all this because I don’t want what I’m about to speak about to come across in any way as a sob story. There are far bigger issues both in tennis and in the world in general than what I’m about to discuss. In the grand scheme of things, my problem is very much a first world one. Nevertheless, it is a problem all the same and as we all know, a problem shared is a problem halved, so settle in folks.
Listening to coverage of the Grand Slams on the BBC was, at one point, my only avenue into following tennis live. As such, in March of 2016, I was delighted to discover that, for the first time, there would be commentary of all of the ATP Masters 1000 events as ATP Tennis Radio was launched. Needless to say, I was over the moon about this. From only having 8 weeks a year to follow tennis to the best part of 13 extra weeks, I felt as if I was in dreamland and I made the absolute most of that.
It came as a huge surprise when I discovered that the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of last year would be their last broadcast tournament due to financial reasons. From looking forward to another year of 9 Masters events at a time when my love for tennis was at its highest to now being able only to listen to the majors was a pretty big blow.
At a time when both the ATP and WTA Tour are in such high supply of quality matches at the 1000-level tournaments, having my only means of following them snatched from me feels particularly cruel. Just this week in the Miami Open, Twitter has been gushing about Jannik Sinner’s incredible tussle with Pablo Carreño Busta, marvelling at the rise and rise of Carlos Alcaraz and anticipating the matches we could be treated to later on. In moments like these, I feel like the kid not invited to the cool guy’s party, looking at the pictures and videos everyone has taken from that event and wishing I’d have had an invitation.
In some ways, I understand the ATP’s decision. Naturally, the demand for radio isn’t as great as it is for TV and that is simply something I have to accept. However, in taking this decision, the ATP have completely cast aside a pretty substantial amount of their audience. Furthermore, I’ve interacted with numerous people who, even though they are able to watch tennis, would often prefer to listen to the radio commentary for various reasons.
Given the success that the ATP had with their channel, the natural expectation was that the WTA Tour would follow suit. As much as the following the ATP was a joyous experience while it lasted, I couldn’t help but feel left out as people waxed lyrical about WTA matches. A particular match that really stands out is the Indian Wells final last year between Victoria Azarenka and Paula Badosa which many regarded as one of the matches of the year. The only prism through which I could follow that match to any extent was via Twitter.
Truth be told, I haven’t the answer for how this problem can be rectified. If the ATP really can’t justify continuing with their radio channel despite their considerable audience, I struggle to see how they would go back on their decision. The fact of the matter is, it would take an enormous amount of people to express their disappointment about the decision and even then, it’s unlikely they’d listen. If there’s anything we know about the ATP, it’s that they rarely change their minds. As such, as much as I’d love to be proven wrong, I’m not holding out much hope.
Given that the WTA and ATP tour are two separate entities, it’s unlikely that they’d merge to create a joint radio station so whilst that might nullify the financial issues somewhat. it seems a faint possibility. Maybe each of the 1000-level tournaments could form their own radio station which runs for a week or two similar to how the majors do it. Whatever the solution is, I sincerely hope that we can find it.
Tennis provides escape, joy, delight and sorrow for all of us and I and many others are being denied that opportunity for much of the year. I sincerely hope that the cool guy decides he’d like me at his party after all.