c/o Netflix

c/o Netflix

This article contains spoilers for “Break Point.” 

The world of professional tennis is getting the “Drive to Survive” treatment with Netflix’s “Break Point,” a docuseries that follows players on the men’s and women’s tours across the 2022 season. With the first five episodes of the series released last month, fans and newcomers to the sport alike have been given access to a new viewpoint on the ATP and WTA tours. While the show entertainingly highlights the personal stakes and day-to-day routines of the players it follows, it struggles to capture the point-by-point thrill of watching a tennis match.

Even for long-time fans, tennis as a sport can be difficult to keep up with. On top of the four Grand Slams, there are countless other annual tournaments worth 1,000, 500, or 250 ranking points on both men’s and women’s tours. With multiple rounds at each of these tournaments (there are seven at a single major alone), viewers need to have ample time to dedicate to watching tennis, especially with the time zone changes of the worldwide ATP and WTA tours. “Break Point” aims to sum up the 2022 tennis season in 10 consumable episodes by following individual players at various tournaments across the year. 

The show applies the “Drive to Survive” formula to tennis, focusing on specific players’ personal stories and the stakes of each match. This method is perfect for Formula One, where the drama between drivers and team principals both during race weekends and in between races—while sometimes exaggerated by Netflix—is realistic to the sport and a central part of what F1 fans regularly keep up with as they follow the sport. The pressure on drivers to keep their seats, their relationships with their teammates, and the choices that teams make about engine providers and design regulations are all things that come with the world of F1 and can impact who wins or loses the championship. And, of course, there are only 20 drivers across 10 teams that you have to know on the grid to have a basic understanding of the sport: whichever of the 20 crosses the finish line first wins. 

In the same way, “Break Point” doesn’t do so much replaying of tennis as it does film players in their hotel rooms before and after matches, follow them to practices, and sit down with them to talk about their lives outside of tennis. We soon realize that professional tennis players aren’t afforded much of a personal life away from the sport, as many of the players interviewed by Netflix explain. Tennis is an expensive sport for the majority of players who don’t make it to the highest echelons of the game, and discussions like the one Ons Jabeur has with her husband and fitness coach about wanting children later in life are insightful to watch. 

The series does a good job of setting up the current environment of the women’s and men’s tours respectively, describing how the WTA tour has a diverse group of challengers and developing talent competing for the top spots in the rankings while the men’s tour has continued to see the next generations of players struggle in collapsing the Big Three’s dominance. With the help of commentary from retired Grand Slam champions Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick, the show is certainly a new way to ease into the tennis world for those unfamiliar with the sport. It’s easy to see how new viewers might be drawn to Nick Kyrgios’ infamous attitude on the court or the romance between WTA player Ajla Tomljanović and ATP player Matteo Berrettini. 

However, where this narrative method has succeeded with Formula One, “Break Point” dives into tennis without as much of an explanation of how a match is scored. For a show that seeks to bring viewers into the world of tennis in the same way that “Drive to Survive” brought an unprecedented number of new fans to the highest level of motorsport, there is very little screen time given to actual matches. The joy of following professional tennis comes not from the drama between players on the tour or snarky comments made in media sessions, but from watching the performance each player puts on when they step onto a tennis court. It would be impossible to cover each tournament of the season in-depth, but the few, brief frames of cool-looking tennis shots the show includes take away from the emotion behind the matches that are being discussed. 

Ignoring the show’s disservice to the actual playing of tennis as a sport, “Break Point” is still an engaging supplement to the real sport. Some particular highlights from the first five episodes include the surprising coverage of men’s doubles at the Australian Open in the first episode, which follows Australian childhood friends Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis as they pull off an upset win after Kyrgios fell out of contention in singles. Episode 3 is an emotional one, centering on California native Taylor Fritz at his home Masters tournament in Indian Wells as he manages a surprise victory in the final over Rafael Nadal, while episode 4 sees Spanish player Paula Badosa struggle in her home tournament at the Madrid Open. Nadal’s dominance in the first half of 2022, however, remains the untold story so far in “Break Point.” With episode 5 following the French Open from the perspective of young Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, who brought on Nadal’s uncle and former coach Toni Nadal to his own coaching team, it’s a thoroughly entertaining mid-season closer that ends with Casper Ruud unable to make a mark in the French Open final as Nadal earns a record 14th Roland-Garros title and 22nd major. 

Newfound tennis fans will have to wait until June for the second part of the series, which will contain five more episodes, to drop on Netflix. While the show may not have aced (pun very much intended) the storytelling of every aspect of the sport, it’s still captivating to watch tennis get the attention it deserves, even if it is through the dramatic lens of “Break Point.” 

Jem Shin can be reached at jshin01@wesleyan.edu.

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