Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Review of the Netflix tennis documentary "Break Point" reveals that it caters to casual viewers while displacing ardent enthusiasts


Examining Break Point: Netflix's new tennis documentary series dumbs it down to the point of alienating its core audience, following exactly the same formula as F1 Drive to Survive.

The decision to solely focus on the new generation of players rather than the old guard might end up being Break Point's biggest mistake, whether you consider it a gamble or an intelligent act of foresight. From the creators of Formula One's enormous success: The new tennis documentary on Netflix, Drive to Survive, aims to do for the sport what Formula 1 did for it: it doesn't care about long-time fans as much as it does about their friends who are just slightly interested. Imagine that the desi diaspora introduces their white friends to RRR and watches as it explodes from there.

However, Break Point, a show that reduces its core audience to the point of alienation, would thrive in this scenario. It frequently pauses to explain how the tennis scoring system works, just to give you an idea of who it is really targeting. Drive to Survive did a beautiful job of bringing in a new group of F1 fans. Additionally, it makes sense for executive producers Paul Martin and James Gay-Rees to refrain from attempting to repair what isn't broken. However, Break Point lacks one essential component that contributed to Drive to Survive's success: the almost effortless ability to establish season-long narratives with satisfying resolutions.

The fact that Break Point is being released in two parts, with the second set of five episodes only arriving in June, could be a major factor in this. This leaves you with the impression that you have only seen the first act of a longer story, which is annoying because it makes you wonder if there is a longer story at all. Is it possible that the remaining episodes of the show are just as episodic as the first batch?

To be fair, Break Point immediately plays its best hand. The Australian wild card Nick Kyrgios receives almost all of the attention in the first episode. Kyrgios, a once-in-a-generation phenom whose career has been marred by on-court implosions and a sense of apathy that would make Akshay Kumar sign six more projects as a mark of protest, is by far the most entertaining player on the men's circuit. Kyrgios has the fiery temper and prodigious talent of the great John McEnroe, but without even a fraction of his success. Kyrgios is referred to as a "part-time tennis player" at one point by veteran champion Andy Roddick, who also appears as a talking head throughout the series alongside Maria Sharapova and Chris Evert.

Kyrgios would most likely concur. Disregard referencing the maltreatment claims that have chased after him for a very long time, the show scarcely even recognizes his dangerous on-court conduct, liking rather to introduce him as a misjudged free thinker of some sort or another — this is no question the picture that Kyrgios himself would like for the general population to become involved with. As a result, we are shown glimpses of him with his girlfriend and family, and his mother occasionally appears to comment on his childhood and regret the time when he became consumed by angst. She never talks about the emotional turmoil caused by his actions.

In comparison to Felix Auger-Aliassime, a Canadian phenom, and Casper Ruud, a Norwegian breakout star, Kyrgios is by far the most explosive character on the roster. Both of these individuals have completely different personalities, which acts as a counterbalance to Kyrgios' chaotic energy. Naturally, the nasty rivalry that erupted between him and the stylish Greek champion Stefanos Tsitsipas at Wimbledon will probably be the subject of a subsequent episode. Even though a stinger at the end of episode 5 promises something, Break Point's priorities are still unclear.

It really fails to capture the tactical complexities of tennis as a show. The editing of the on-court sequences may appeal to a generation that has grown up with (or at least become accustomed to) TikTok in recent years, rather than to anyone old enough to remember when Gustavo Kuerten topped the world rankings. The show's players frequently discuss the sport's isolation and the importance of mental toughness to winning, but they almost always do so directly and not through tennis. Kyrgios briefly discusses the pressure that came with being dubbed the sport's next big thing and how it sent him spiraling for nearly a decade. Paula Badosa, a Spanish tennis player who is frequently compared to Sharapova, discusses her battle with depression and anxiety later. However, Break Point doesn't pay nearly as much attention to this as two other documentaries on Netflix, one about Mardy Fish and the other about Naomi Osaka.

The show cannot get into the specifics of how matches are won because it cannot assume that everyone watching is familiar with the sport. Instead, basic information like "tennis matches can turn on a dime" is given to us, and gameplay is frequently interrupted by jarring exposition that looks like live commentary but was clearly recorded in a dubbing booth after the edit was locked.

Break Point, like the ZEE5 documentary series of the same name about the Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi rivalry, wants you to connect with the characters rather than the sport itself. To that end, it makes a weak attempt to tell a story about heroes and villains, portraying Toni, Rafael Nadal's former coach, as a pompous bully and, more perplexingly, Rafa as an adversary who resembles a Terminator. Did he decline their requests for interviews? Because, according to the majority, the (possible) GOAT is one of the tour's nicest guys. However, as if he were Darth Vader or something, almost every time he appears on screen, he is accompanied by ominous music.

A scene from episode five in which Rafa defeats Ruud in the French Open final before they even pick up their racquets is especially funny. It is essential to comprehend that tennis is not entirely a physical activity. And Rafa is well-known for having this effect on his opponents; as he begins a ritualistic warm-up in the tunnel just before being called out on court, many of them are, understandably, intimidated by him. Rafa mentally knocks them out before he grinds them to a pulp during the fight. To be clear, he is not a villain because of this, but it would have been interesting to get insights like this on the show, especially from someone who doesn't really care about shooting and being athletic.

By far, the most entertaining episode is Episode 5. After initially relying so heavily on the same editing rhythms that made Drive to Survive so enjoyable, the show seems to have finally found its stride. After the legendary coach stated that he would root against his new trainee, Auger-Aliassime, if he were to play against Rafa, Auger-Aliassime's awkwardness around Uncle Toni, for instance, makes for some fantastic drama.

However, Rafa's absence is noticeable, as are those of his contemporaries Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who together are three of the sport's greatest champions. It is analogous to producing a Bollywood documentary and omitting Shah Rukh Khan due to Kartik Aaryan's promising future.

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