The next generation of men’s and women’s pro tennis champions has arrived, according to Break Point (★★★☆☆), Netflix’s slick, behind-the-scenes look at life on the rambling, relentless, international roadshow of a single season in the sport.
As the series makes clear from its first of ten episodes, however, aspiring champions on the men’s side will still need to conquer enduring legends Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in order to lift the sport’s most coveted trophies.
That first episode, “Maverick,” covers the first major tournament of 2022, the Australian Open in Melbourne, where Serbian superstar Djokovic infamously did not play due to issues with his visa and (anti-)vaccination status. Relegating that overheated brouhaha to a tidy montage in episode two, the series producers instead focus “Maverick” on the tournament’s homegrown lightning rod for controversy, Australian Nick Kyrgios, the current bad boy of tennis.
Kyrgios suffices as the biggest name, if not the highest ranked or most accomplished, among the players featured as subjects on the show. He and Top 20 mainstays Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Paula Badosa, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Maria Sakkari, Matteo Berrettini, Ons Jabeur, Casper Ruud, and Félix Auger-Aliassime are followed by camera crews on and off the court, win or lose.
Interspersed between player profiles and match highlights, tennis idols like Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Andy Roddick, and Maria Sharapova add no-nonsense color commentary on the main cast’s careers and prospects. A tightly edited combo of on-court competition, off-court coverage, intimate interviews, news and archival footage, and the mostly 20-something players’ social media, the show approximates the player’s-eye view of working practically every day to be by some measure better than the day before.
“Maverick” stakes a solid case for why Kyrgios — perpetually clad in NBA team swag, accompanied by his manager, trainer, and girlfriend — stands apart, attracting the adoration of fans with his deft on-court moves, while inciting the wrath of detractors with his snide, racquet-smashing outbursts.
The mercurial talent argues his own case repeatedly, insisting he’s one of the genuine, larger-than-life entertainers on the tour, and, while his antics can be juvenile and obnoxious, he’s also not wrong. His star quality outshines more reserved or less captivating peers, both at his day job and in this series.
The episode hits a winner with the sequence where Kyrgios surprises himself, and everyone in his circle, by making a historic run in the Men’s Doubles competition alongside fellow Aussie singles pro and best mate Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Subsequent episodes (five were available to critics for review) center, respectively, on the endearing couple dynamics between former Wimbledon finalist Berrettini and Top 40 women’s player Ajla Tomljanovic (the show’s low-key secret weapon), and the personal and professional struggles of Greek #1 Sakkari, Spanish #1 Badosa, and Tunisian #1 Jabeur, the highest-ranked African and Arab player in history.
It happens that every one of these players had a momentous 2022 season, and the season on the whole produced some unforgettable moments. Unfortunately, many of the most sensational events and star appearances — like Tomljanovic facing Serena Williams at the U.S. Open — won’t turn up until Break Point‘s final five episodes drop in June, uncovering the eventful latter half of this tennis season.
The series’ first half wraps with “King of Clay,” certainly the show’s most enthralling, as it rightly hypes up the greatest challenge in tennis: attempting to keep a French Open championship out of the hands of Rafael Nadal, the player who’s lost at this tournament only three times and had won it 13 times previously.
Not often does this show provoke outright laughter, but the sight of Rafa’s wide-eyed opponents trying desperately to maintain their pre-match concentration in the stadium tunnel as he revs up with intense lunges and sprints right behind them is hilarious.
But for all Break Point captures, the series misses a lot. The laser focus on these specific players and their day-to-day can be fascinating, but it leads to a packaged, episodic feel that loses the serial ebb and flow of what fans call Tennis Nation. As in any pro sport, every season is a sprawling epic of continuing stories, not just the sum of a certain number of episodes. The show skips over important tournaments, and the bombshell retirement of then-world #1 Ashleigh Barty, with nary a mention of how the results of those omitted events might reverberate in all the tournaments that follow.
Break Point does provide humanizing insight into the lives of these elite pro athletes, how they train and travel (nonstop), how they post, Tok, and tweet (also nonstop), how they vibe at home or from hotel to hotel (like slobs, in most cases, apparently), and what keeps them fighting day after day to win matches.
But it might take until the entire season plays out before we see if Break Point compiled these profiles into a satisfying bigger picture, or just a collection of cool individual portraits.
Episodes 1-5 of Break Point are available for streaming on Netflix. Visit www.netflix.com.
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