If you're down with the action from Down Under, ESPN2 and Tennis Channel have you covered.
The network doubles partners are upping their game with more coverage hours and ways to check out tennis' first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, where Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams will look to defend their 2009 titles.
ESPN2 -- catering to America's late-night watchers or very early-morning risers, depending on your perspective and sleeping routines -- is increasing its programming schedule to 113 live hours, the most in ESPN's 26-year history with the event, not to mention a bevy of afternoon encores. By and large, ESPN2's coverage from Melbourne, which will be showcased in high-definition for the first time on ESPN2 HD, breaks down into three windows: live matches at 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., plus three hours of same-day encores the next afternoon at 3 p.m.
ESPN2 begins its live Aussie coverage on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. (ET), culminating with the women's and men's finals on Jan. 29 at 3:30 a.m. and Jan. 30 at the same time, respectively. For those who can't make the live morning rounds, there are encore telecasts on both ESPN2 and Tennis Channel, which will provide same-day repeats.
For its part, Tennis Channel will serve up close to 30 hours of live or first-run match coverage, beginning on Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.. Highlights include; quarterfinal coverage on Jan. 25-26; the men's doubles seminfinals on Jan. 27; women's doubles championship on Jan. 28; men's doubles finals on Jan. 30; and the mixed doubles championship on Jan. 31.
Each morning at 8 a.m. (ET) Tennis Channel's daily morning show Australian Open Today will once again bring U.S. viewers up to speed on everything that happened on the other side of the world while they (some) were sleeping. The network plans 75 original hours of the six-hour recap show, offering highlights, previously unseen matches, original features and more.
As part of their Grand Slam alliance forge in 2007, ESPN is producing all Australian Open coverage for both networks, which will cross-promote each other with each channel utilizing its own commentators. At the French Open, the responsibilities are reversed with Tennis handing the production process.
The networks also have rights to the other Grand Slam tournaments. At Wimbledon, ESPN takes center stage. In Flushing Meadows, New York at the U.S. Open, Tennis, in a deal reached in May 2008, is sublicensing rights from ESPN. Both officially became "Grand Slam" networks when they carried the Open late last summer.
Digitally, there's also more court coverage than ever. Broadband service ESPN360.com will provide a most-ever 600 hours, all live, with users choosing between action on seven courts.
Tennis is jumping into this game as well, with its initial streaming from Australia, available at www.tennischannel.com Visitors can access the site free of charge during Tennis Channel's on-air coverage windows to select from any one of three court feeds. All told, the network will present 55 hours of live-match streaming over the two-week tourney.
The network's Web site also will offer real-time scoring, Australian Open Today features, best-match highlights and the network's exclusive "Racquet Bracket" tournament prediction game, as well as a chance to win a trip to the 2011 tournament via its "Garnier's Colors of Australia" sweepstakes. Blogs and columns from network regulars James LaRosa and Steve Flink will also be accessible.
ESPN.com will feature an all new Slam Central, replete with video highlights and original podcasts from the ESPN PodCenter and daily video highlights including ESPN.com's original digital series Digital Serve, with Jennifer Williams. News and analysis from contributors Ravi Ubha and Tennis.com will also be featured, along with live analysis of the second-week.
Elsewhere, ESPN Interactive TV is exclusive to DirecTV subscribers, who can access a six-screen mix channel. For seven to eight hours nightly during the first eight days of the tournament, viewers will be able to watch the ESPN2 feed or one of five other courts, all with commentary. Other features: interactive data, the tournament draw, up-to-date scores, and daily order of play.
ESPN is also making an array of programming available on demand, which began with the Australian Open Preview Show, accessible through the beginning of the tournament. Highlights of last year's finals are available through March 3 (men's, 57 minutes; women's, 34 minutes), while 10-minute recaps of each of this year's championship matches will be offered from Feb. 3 through March 3.
For Tennis, its on-air talent is headed by play-caller Bill Macatee, who will be joined by the network's principal analyst Martina Mavratilova. Also returning is veteran Tennis play-by-play commentator Leif Shiras, and analyst and features reporter Justin Gimelstob. Former No. 1 doubles player Corina Morariu will roam the tournaments grounds, handling sideline and interview duties.
"There are so many storylines at this Aussie Open, but the one that excites me the most is the Belgian one -- how will Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin go?" said Navratilova. "I'm looking forward to heading down to Melbourne and getting things going again this year with Bill Macatee and Tennis Channel."
ESPN2's cast also returns intact, with Cliff Drysdale, who has been with ESPN since its first tennis telecast in 1979, and sportscasting legend Dick Enberg making the Melbourne calls. Chris Fowler will again host and call select matches, with Chris McKendry also hosting.
Darren Cahill, Mary Carillo, Mary Joe Fernandez, Brad Gilbert and Patrick McEnroe return as analysts, as does Pam Shriver, who will primarily serve as a courtside and studio reporter. Tom Rinaldi will contribute features, news and interviews during event coverage, as well as on SportsCenter.
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