ESPN2, Tennis Channel Pump Up Australian Open Coverage as Nole, Vika Look to Defend Crowns

As ESPN2’s promo for the Australian Open -- accompanied by Oz stalwart AC/DC’s “Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock ‘N Roll” -- suggests, the tennis world is about to get “Pumped up Down Under.”

Which, of course, is what the men’s and women’s fields would like to do against Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka -- put the defending champions down and themselves on top at the first Grand Slam of the tennis season

Together, ESPN2 and Tennis Channel, over the course of 130 live hours – not to mention ubiquitous encores -- will chronicle the hard court exploits of Djokovic, the two-time defending champion and world No. 1, and Azarenka, who claimed her only Slam to date at the 2012 event in Melbourne and currently holds the top spot on the WTA circuit, as well as their varied opponents.

On the men’s side, Djokovic’s most serious challenge figures to come from Andy Murray, the gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics, who then wiped away Britain’s 76-year-old Grand Slam ghost by defeating his friend and contemporary Nole at the U.S. Open last September. The No. 3-ranked player is in the same half of the draw as world No. 2 Roger Federer, who took the measure of Murray at Wimbledon for his 17th Slam, before settling for silver at the Scot’s hand at the All-England Club three weeks later.

If form holds, David Ferrer would meet Djokovic in the semifinals, as the diminutive baseliner moves up to the fourth seed in the continuing absence of fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal.  Big-hitters Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Jo Wilfred Tsonga have punchers’ chance to wind up smiling at the Happy Slam.

As for the ladies, Vika may be No. 1 and wearing the crown, but she’s not the favorite and is suffering from an ailing toe. For her part, No. 2 and French Open queen Maria Sharapova has a right collarbone injury that forced her to withdraw from the Brisbane International tourney.

Even if healthy, the top two seeds would be looking up third-seeded Serena Williams, who, after bowing in the first round in the French Open last year, lost only once more in 2012 to Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati, en route to winning Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open. 

If the seeds hold, Serena-Vika would unfold for the 13th time in the semifinals, with the Belarusian looking for her second triumph against the American, who is seeking her Sweet 16 Slam.

Sharapova, who could meet Venus Williams in the third round, is in the other half of the draw, where No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, the fifth-seeded German Kerber and 2011 Australian finalist and French Open champ Li Na loom.

There’s also a tasty opening round matchup: 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova versus 2010 French Open winner Fransesca Schiavone.

ESPN2 and Tennis are now in the sixth year of their TV alliance for the season’s first two majors – the former is the  primary rights-holder and takes the production lead in Melbourne, while the independent net sets the play in Paris with the French Open.

In what will be the worldwide leader’s 29th consecutive year of Aussie action, ESPN2’s coverage, presented by Franklin Templeton, begins Stateside on Sunday Jan. 13 at 6:30 p.m. (ET) with 12.5 hours. All told, ESPN2 will present 100 live hours in high-definition. Daily action continues each night with afternoon encores totaling more than 50 additional hours through the women’s championship Saturday, Jan 26, and the men’s championship the following day, both at 3 a.m. with reairs later each day at 9 a.m. and in primetime time (see schedule below). The telecasts are also available through WatchESPN online at and on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app. 

Now in 83 million homes, broadband service ESPN3 has more than 600 hours in store. ESPN3’s coverage starts at 7 p.m. over the first 11 days of the tournament with the first ball each day of all TV court matches.  Additionally, ESPN3 will offer live matches not airing on ESPN2, including the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles championships and the finals of the boys and girls divisions.

Tennis Channel steps on court Monday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m. (ET). The network plans for more than 30 hours of live match telecasts (see schedule below) during the two-week competition again this year, with more than 180 hours of dedicated tournament coverage overall. In addition to 10 consecutive nights of live primetime matches running into the middle of the second week, Tennis viewers will again be able to tune in throughout the tourney for encore match coverage and a sense of where things stand as the tournament progresses.

New for 2013: a retooled format for daily highlight and encore-match show Australian Open Today. Whereas the network previously aired a single programming block that ran once in the morning and again each afternoon, this year it will feature two daily editions, one dedicated to the tournament's most recent day session and one to the most recent night session. This lifts the amount of first-run Australian Open Today programming, from 41 hours in 2012 to an estimated 72 hours in 2013.

As for on-air talent, the faces and voices will be familiar. ESPN2’s crew is once again led by Cliff Drysdale – who has been with ESPN since its first tennis telecast in 1979.  Darren Cahill, Chris Evert, Mary Joe Fernandez, Brad Gilbert, Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver return with hosts Chris Fowler, who also calls matches. including the finals, and Chris McKendry.  Tom Rinaldi will contribute features, news and interviews during event coverage and on SportsCenter.

Tennis’ Aussie team is the largest in network history Down Under. Bill Macatee and Hall of Fame player Martina Navratilova, who have covered each Slam since it entered the realm of the majors with the 2007 French Open, will reprise their respective play-by-play and analyst’s calls. Emmy Award-winning announcer Brett Haber and commentator Justin Gimelstob are also back, while Lindsay Davenport who won the Australian Open singles title in 2000 and reached the doubles final six times, will lend her championship perspective. Australia’s own Rennae Stubbs, who won the tournament's doubles crown in 2000 and holds more women's doubles championships overall than any player in that nation's rich tennis history, will handle specials reports and vignettes. Sports Illustrated reporter Jon Wertheim will also appear on the network in Melbourne this year.


(All times are Eastern, and each day “begins” at 6 a.m. ET.

Tennis Channel's Live Australian Open Match Schedule (all times ET)

Date                                                    Time                           Event                

Monday, Jan. 14                                 7 p.m.-9 p.m.               First Round

Tuesday, Jan. 15                                 7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Second Round

Wednesday, Jan. 16                            7 p.m.-11 p.m.            Second Round

Thursday, Jan. 17                                7 p.m.-11 p.m.             Third Round

Friday, Jan. 18                                    7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Third Round

Saturday, Jan. 19                                7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Round of 16

Sunday, Jan. 20                                   7 p.m.-9 p.m.               Round of 16

Monday, Jan. 21                                7 p.m.-9 p.m.         Men's and Women's Quarterfinals

Tuesday, Jan. 22                                 7 p.m.-9 p.m.         Men's and Women's Quarterfinals

Wednesday, Jan. 23                            7 p.m.-9:30 p.m.          TBA

Thursday, Jan. 24                                11 p.m.-3 a.m.             Mixed Doubles Semifinal

   and Women's Doubles Final

Saturday, Jan. 26                                5:30 a.m.-7:30 a.m.     Men's Doubles Final

Sunday, Jan. 27                                   12:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m.   Mixed Doubles Final

Tennis Channel's Australian Open Today will air daily the first 10 days of the tournament, from Monday, Jan. 14-Wednesday, Jan. 23.