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ESPN2, Tennis Ace Australian Open Coverage

Dig the tennis action from Down Under, but don’t have the means or time to trek to Melbourne? Don’t worry, ESPN2 and Tennis Channel have your backhands -- and passing shots for that matter -- covered with their extensive presentations.

The networks are teaming on unprecedented TV and multimedia coverage of the Australian Open from Jan. 13-27.

Late last January, the networks reached a multimedia programming and marketing alliance for the Australian and French Opens through 2011. Under terms of the pact -- financial terms were not disclosed -- ESPN2 gained the rights from Tennis to present 60 hours from Roland Garros last May and June. In exchange, Tennis volleyed into ESPN2’s rights, gaining access to present some 100 live and taped hours from the Australian Open. In sharing costs, Tennis produces the coverage from Paris, while ESPN does the same from Melbourne. Moreover, the network’s tout each other’s coverage, while supplying their own talent.

Coming off its best-ever tennis rating, a 1.9 household rating for Serena Williams’ straight-set romp over then No. 1 Maria Sharapova in last year’s women’s final, ESPN2 is upping its coverage ante from its usual 120 or so hours. Following a trio of memorable matches Jan. 11 on ESPN Classic -- the 1995 final between Andre Agassi and Peter Sampras, their 2000 semifinal and Serena taking on sister Venus in the 2003 final -- ESPN2 takes to center screens with 137 hours on TV and some 480 live hours on broadband via ESPN360.com.

Play begins on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com on Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. (ET), continuing through live coverage of the women’s and men’s finals at 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, and 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 27, respectively. The men’s championship --  Roger Federer is eyeing a defense of  his crown to move within one title of tying Pete Sampras’s Grand Slam mark of 14 – encores more civilly at noon that day.

For the most part, ESPN2 will open up three daily windows from Melbourne: live evening, primetime and overnight (ET) coverage; live matches again from 3:30 a.m to 8 a.m. (at 6 a.m. coverage may shift to ESPN Classic); and at least three hours of same-day action at 3 p.m. 

On the digital side, ESPN360.com will serve up no fewer than six live feeds from various courts for a total exceeding  480 hours. From Jan. 13 – 23, ESPN360 coverage will commence at 7 p.m. (11 a.m. in Melbourne, when play begins) from the “TV courts”:  Rod Laver Arena, Vodafone Arena, Margaret Court Arena, as well as Courts 2, 3 and 6. Users will see the “world feed” from the host broadcaster, with graphics, natural sound and no commentary. For the remainder of the tournament, ESPN360.com will present the ESPN2 simulcast, culminating with the women’s (Jan. 24), men’s (Jan. 25) and mixed (Jan. 26) doubles finals. Upon completion, each broadband coverage window is available for on-demand replay.

Wireless service, ESPN Mobile TV, will provide more than 50 hours of live coverage.

Tennis steps into the live action Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. (ET). All told, Tennis plans 30 hours of live or first-run match telecasts, largely via primetime blocks, plus replays of the men’s and women’s singles semifinals and finals after they premiere on ESPN2.

The network will also offer more than 70 hours through daily morning show Australian Open Today; its principle time slot: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Bill Macatee and Martina Navratilova, who just signed a contract with Tennis to provide commentary for its Grand Slam coverage at the French and Wimbledon as well, are the network’s primary on-air personalities. They will be joined by network announcer and commentator Leif Shiras, the recently retired Justin Gimelstob and current player Renee Stubbs, when she is not competing in the tournament. Shiras, Gimelstob and Stubbs will handle sideline and interview duties, announce a number of matches in conjunction with Australian Open Today, and appear in feature material.

ESPN2’s talent team includes Cliff Drysdale, Dick Enberg, Mary Carillo, Mary Joe Fernandez, Patrick McEnroe, Darren Cahill, Luke Jensen, Pam Shriver and Chris Fowler.

Bud Collins, the doyen of tennis journalists, makes his ESPN2 Grand Slam coverage debut as a studio analyst and essayist.