Zooming Into The Unknown
Tennis|May - June 2021
Tennis journalism and coverage adapted to the evolving new normal, but at what cost?
By Nina Pantic

It’s a Thursday evening and Serena Williams just defeated Anastasia Potapova inside Rod Laver Arena. The American’s job for the day was over, but for members of the press, their work was just getting started.

The journalists excuse themselves from living rooms, close the door to an office or bedroom, and beg for a few moments of silence from a child, spouse or pet: Serena is about step off of the TV screen, and slide into their laptops.

When the world was turned upside down last year, no one realized how profoundly different tennis coverage would become. Reporters began asking players questions through their screens, content creators hoped for strong enough internet connections to record video interviews, and television analysts called matches from home.

As synonymous with our daily lives as Zoom is today, it’s remarkable to think that before 2020, the platform was relatively unknown. The video communications company has been around for a full decade, while another popular option, Microsoft Teams, launched in 2017.

“There were times in Delray that I literally had to walk through with someone and say, ‘Here’s how you use Zoom,’” says Pete Holtermann, media coordinator for events in Delray Beach, Houston and Cincinnati. “There’s a lot that has to happen behind the scenes, but I think we’re seeing less and less of that [as everyone gets used to it].”

“I love that it’s a thing now, to be honest, because I think the players are used to it,” says tennis stadium emcee and reporter Blair Henley. “I think it gives us another avenue. It’s about being creative.

“These circumstances are unusual, but we’re always looking for other ways to get a player to open up off the court, or give us their thoughts on a match.”

Before the journalism landscape went virtual, instructions from a pressroom moderator ahead of the first question would be along the lines of: “Silence your phones and raise your hand to be called on.” These days it’s more like: “Please stay on mute, and request to ask a question through the chat function.”

Along the way, there have been dropped connections, distracting at-home backgrounds, awkwardness over whose turn it is to talk, and—the most dreaded ego blow—getting cut off midquestion. Still, the consensus amongst journalists is gratitude for being able to continue doing their jobs.

From a tournament perspective, going virtual has allowed for a substantial increase in press coverage, with a decrease in expenses and lower health risks.

“The fact that this is now something that pretty much everyone knows how to do, I think that’s a huge thing for our sport, and I think that is going to continue long after we don’t have to do this anymore,” Henley says. “It’s great to be able to do an interview where you don’t have to have the person sitting next to you.”

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