TTI’s Guide to Those That Talk Tennis: A “Comm”prehensive Encyclopedia
You’re sitting at home, minding your own business as your favorite sports channel’s featured tennis match plays on in the background. It’s January, perhaps, so you have a pot of coffee brewing in hopes that you might be able to stay up for the thrilling Australian Open second round between Carla Suarez Navarro and Maria Sakkari –which, of course is the worst possible time for your sleep schedule. The players are warming up and you’re gently pouring your aromatic awakening beverage into your cup, when all of a sudden it hits you.
You have absolutely no idea whose robust British voice you’ve been listening to for the last several hours.
In fact, you’ve NEVER known who you’re listening to.
Not that one time you borrowed your friend’s TennisTV login to watch the final of the Baku Cup; not the time you were at the one bar in your entire metropolitan city that plays tennis on its screens; not even when you were diligently listening to the first five minutes of the broadcast when the commentators introduced themselves.
Well, say goodbye to those restless nights where you were tossing and turning in your sleep trying to discern the difference between the Reeds, Bradnams and Mercers of the world — because without further ado, The Tennis Island gladly presents:
Shazam: Tennis Commentator Edition – A Comm-prehensive Encyclopedia of Voices.
The men of the tennis commentator world are indistinctly distinct. It took hours upon hours to ruffle through the highlight videos and full match replays littering the Internet in order to perfectly match voices to names.
A variety of similar-sounding men are employed by numerous networks, but the truest of confusion lies within a triumvirate of Eurosport broadcasters and their fellow sidekicks – so let’s start with them.
Group A: Eurosport’s Terrifying Trifecta + Two
Let’s talk about David Mercer. He’s insightful, knows his sport and is ultimately a seasoned commentator. Despite his tendency to get somewhat over-involved personally with what’s happening on court, there’s something soothing about his slightly crisper and smokier voice. He likes to play around with the tone of his commentating as well, often wavering between “scolding grandfather” and “encouraging tennis club senior coach.”
Often found alongside the likewise difficultly differentiated Sam Smith & Jo Durie, Bradnam is perhaps the most explosive in the trifecta of British men who commentate for Eurosport – among others. Although equally as knowledgeable as Mercer in tennis (particularly WTA, their primary commentary subject), Bradnam occasionally slips into fits of exasperation courtesy of the magnificence of the sport he follows. And if a Brit is playing? Even more so.
Some key words to distinguish Bradnam apart from his Eurosport counterparts include “Wow,” “Oh my, goodness me” and “No way.” (And his penchant for fashion analysis.)
Bradnam and Reed are, in an expert opinion, the most easily confused of the #men, and it took quite a bit of research in order to definitively tell them apart. What the broadcasting world has made easier for us: Reed is typically an ATP analyst, while Bradnam and Mercer tend to handle WTA matches (but honestly, even this is frequently up in the air.)
Reed’s brand of commentary is slightly more sedated than BradnaMercer, but his ability to generate narratives or speculative hot takes in the middle of a match (“Djokovic must be injured if playing so poorly against Simon,” for example) sets him slightly apart. If you’re all in for an emotional roller coaster of concluding a match within the context of a single point, or a career within the context of a single match — his charmingly intoned British accent is the one for you.
Sir Frew McMillan (as unofficially knighted by Tennis Twitter) is the Luigi to Simon Reed’s Mario. These two, when paired together, make for an excellent team. Whereas Reed excels primarily in the realm of speculation and metamatch analysis (which is great for the inquisitive and emotionally available viewer), McMillan excels at an analytical yet compellingly deadpan British voiceover. It’s like the raita to Reed’s curry, or the objectivity to his partner’s, um, subjectivity. McMillan knows tennis, he knows tactics, and, at 73 years old, is not afraid to say exactly what he thinks.
According to McCrea’s profile on Betfair.com,
His dulcet Croydon tones can be heard in a wide variety of places including Eurosport, Radio Wimbledon and on Betfair’s live video coverage of the ATP Masters Series.
We hope that’s autobiographical, since anyone who refers to their own voice as a dulcet Croydon tone deserves a medal. McCrea is the British voice you might most recently hear commentating alongside TTI Commentator Rising Star™ Vladka Uhlirova on Tennis TV (although his services span across a wide variety of networks.) He has a way with entertaining cliché and is quite listenable, knowing when to stay silent and when to offer his fairly comprehensive input — even when he’s working alone.
Group B: The Big Three of ESPN
Although he rarely speaks on women’s tennis, Goodall is one of the best in the business on matters of men’s tennis. Often accompanying Rob Koenig on ESPN’s broadcasts of the ATP Tour, Goodall’s informative, journalistic tone of voice can be found overlying epic, dramatic music for a variety of video segments that demonstrate his relative strategic and technical superiority over the rest of the field.
Koenig is a legend. Beyond his decent career as a pro player, this South African (no, not Australian) knows the technical elements of tennis down to a tee, only rivaled by his fellow Big Three members Goodall and Darren Cahill.
Unrivaled, however, is his flare and artistry with words under the most tight circumstances. He operates on a plane beyond that of pure cliché, coming up with turns of phrases previously thought unimaginable. If Goodall is an efficient machine, Koenig is the artist in the commentator’s box, and our ears are the willing canvas.
Also known to many a-WTA fan as Simona Halep’s (current) coach, Cahill also lives on the commentator side of things as well, calling men’s tennis for ESPN when he’s not dishing out lessons on the perfect on-court coaching session. Just as he is on court, Cahill is calm, collected, and offers valuable perspective into the psyche of tennis players in the booth. As far as Australian accents go, his is as placid as they come and one could argue that he’s the most personable (and listenable) of ESPN’s Big Three.
Group C: Team ‘Merica (World Police)
It was once said that 73-year-old Frew McMillan of Group A was unafraid of speaking his mind. In a typically American response to anything British (bigger, bolder, and more brash) — I present to you: John McEnroe.
John got a bad rap for his on court antics back in the day and continues to take flack for his hotheaded, hot take commentary up in the booth — but he definitely scores big for his various NBC/USA networks in entertainment value. Sure, everything he says has to be taken with a grain of salt — but in America, they put salt on everything.
Brother of John, he obviously had a much more understated career than his fiery kin and his commentary style reflects that. He’s generally a little more objective, probably since he’s a more frequent commentator, and his New York tone isn’t as grating (or iconic) as his brother’s…which is probably a good thing in the long run.
Gilbert is known on Twitter for his ridiculous(ly endearing?) nicknames for players. In the commentary box, he’s known for his decent coaching resume and tactical insight, but of course not without his own bold and seldom logical match predictions. His commentary sounds like the kindly middle-aged dentist who means well but who you’re not sure you trust because of the fact that he’s the only one that you can afford…so you must.
(But did he really come up with that nickname?)
We’re lucky that Gilbert and Gimelstob work for different networks (the former with ESPN and the latter with Tennis Channel) for two reasons a) their style is similarly ‘merican and might cause the world to explode in a flurry of star-spangled eagles and b) they’re almost Bradnam-Reedian in their voice similarity.
Both have that aforementioned kind-but-doubtworthy dentist sound going on, both have a history of coaching, and both are controversial (one for nicknames, the other for…other things.) The main difference is… uh… that Gimelstob’s commentary is a maybe a semitone lower. And that’s about it?
Group D: Kevin Skinner
I don’t care what anyone says, Kevin Skinner (whose appearances on the world’s tennis streams seems to be less and less these days) is a commentator legend. I don’t know if I’m bold enough to call him the American version of Rob Koenig, but Skinner, like the South African, has a way with words that is otherworldly in comprehension. His use of puns, analogy, metaphors, cliché and rhetoric is truly unmatched, and while this may not be palatable for everyone, he constantly gives unforgettable commentary such as THIS:
Men are confusing. Often, they can be more confusing than women. But not always. Let’s have a look at the talented and stunning sirens of sports network teleivison who, at times, have made you question who exactly you’re listening to.
Group E: The WHO?-urosport Ladies
Durie is a fine commentator, one you might frequently hear alongside Mercer-Bradnam-Reed-McMillan-McCrae. Although she might lack the blatant and vocal enthusiasm of voice-counterpart Sam Smith or her male colleagues, her analyses are usually sound, generally objective and her tone is a welcome contribution without being overbearing.
Sam Smith the tennis commentator, not the 2014 breakthrough musician of similar geographic origins. Smith’s sound is the younger version of Durie’s: she speaks slightly faster, slightly stronger and with a slight more abandon. Although occasionally guilty of picking favorites (and unafraid of reminding you of them), she’s an experienced commentator who knows women’s tennis inside and out, and her rationale is rarely suspect.
Fun fact #1: all three of these Eurosport ladies used to be players on the WTA circuit.
Fun fact #2: Virgina Wade was the most successful.
Wade is a three-time major champion and, in essence, was just as close as Djokovic is today at completing the legendary career Grand Slam. With this being said, any shortcomings Wade might have in the commentary box can be excused. She’s whimsical, but not completely absent. She’s definitely guilty of both getting excited in tense WTA matches and scathing after tense unforced errors, but who isn’t?
Either way, she speaks with a slow, rambling approach that will probably remind you of the way your grandmother tells stories.
AND WE ALL LOVE GRANDMA’S STORIES.
Group F: ‘Merica’s Golden (Slam) Girls
Auntie Pam, as she’s affectionately called by Tennis Twitter, is a rogue ethnographic journalist on a mission to forever change the way tennis is covered at the majors and how dare we question anything she does. Don’t know what I mean? Here.
Jokes aside, Shriver is that intrepid reporter you’ll often hear speaking in a whispering voice — she’s whispering because she is literally rows from the court calling the match as she hears it. Her nasal-y tone might take a bit of getting used to, but her weatherwoman approach to tennis commentary is as compelling as it is unabashed.
And who can forget this legendary moment?
You know the hashtag, perhaps one of the oldest and most well-known in the Tennis Twitter annals.
It comes from none other than tennis legend Chris Evert herself. Of the Golden (Slam) Girls, she accounts for the most slams in her professional career — although Shriver has more doubles slams and will never let anyone forget it.
Evert admittedly has come into her own in the booth over the past few years. Although the days of exasperating, frighteningly wrong statements aren’t exactly gone, there’s a new widespread acceptance of her whimsicality. In the past, she relied heavily on her own experience as a top player, but after years has learned to approach her commentary from a more external and professional worldview.
Not everything she says makes 100 percent sense (to us, at least), but 75 percent is alright as long as she sounds convincing. Right?
If Evert and Shriver are Blossom and Buttercup of the Powerpuff Girls (because all female trios can ultimately be reduced to a Cartoon Network show, obviously), Austin is the Bubbles. There seems to be less intensity in the tone of her commentary, and she generally sounds more optimistic about “the state of things” — a popular topic of discussion in American tennis. Although she doesn’t have the same depth of commentary (for better or for worse) as the latter two, her contributions to the Tennis Channel’s commentary team are typically accurate, objective and listenable.
If we’re going to keep going with the Powerpuff Girl analogy, Carillo is… Mojo Jojo? Perhaps not as villainous, but just as cartoonish. Carillo is an American network icon who usually peaks around the time of the US Open, when tennis fans are already delirious from a long season. Carillo’s velvety deep voice is simply unforgettable and I’ll just leave it at that.
BONUS: MARTINA NAVRATILOVA
She’s Czech, but she’s also American! That’s right, we can include Tennis Channel’s Navratilova in Group F, even if Chrissie might not like it. Navratilova has a near perfect grasp of English, but when she’s behind the mic of your favorite broadcast, it’s her slight Czech accent that can give her identity away.
Her commentary is probably one of the most objective of the #women — even while covering noted personal favorites such as Petra Kvitova — and her mastery of the game of tennis in her youth hasn’t abandoned her whatsoever in her post-tennis years. She’s insightful, critical, and overall a great addition to any team of commentators.
Above all else, she just tells it how it is.
Group G: TTI’s Commentator Rising Stars™
A pro up until as recently as 2013, Keothavong has navigated her way up the commentary ranks at an alarming rate. Categorically Smith-Durian in voice, her broadcast style is slightly more new wave; she has often played against many of the players she is commenting on, adding an additional level of insight that her older colleagues lack. Although she might occasionally lose her voice or talk during points, Keothavong has become a welcome contribution to our ears during tennis matches.
What Uhlirova might lack in aural tact, she makes up for in a passion for tennis and a knowledge of how it’s played. Once known only to tennis consumers in 2015 as “the loud one with the ambiguous central European accent,” she was quickly identified and has become a bit of a cult hit with the tennis community. Though some find the sound of her voice slightly grating, her recently-acquired commitment to moments of silence (particularly during points) is a welcome addition to her unique and always thoughtful comments on the match. As a former doubles player up until as recently as 2014, her commentary on WTA doubles is particularly insightful and her passion for the discipline is unmatched.
Above all else, Uhlirova is usually always right, which is perhaps unsurprisingly quite a useful trait for a commentator to possess — and not all do.
Another 2013 retiree, Bartoli performed the ultimate career mic drop by retiring right after she won the Wimbledon title that year. She has since juggled a variety of off-court projects including a jewelry line and, of course, tennis commentary.
With a reported IQ of 170 (as major tournament graphics would never let anyone forget, because #narrative), Bartoli’s commentary has a lot of… substance. As other TTI’s Commentator Rising Stars™, she’s been frequently guilty of speaking over points, often recounting stories of old – from locker room fables to practice court nightmares. As the years have gone by however, Bartoli’s prowess in the commentary department has improved massively, providing an almost Navratilovian level of tactical and technical insight on both women’s and men’s matches equally.
Never sure who that mousey voice with the faint French accent is? Now you’ll always know.
One omission: Stephanie Dubois, most recently heard on Australian Open commentary for Eurosport. Sounds a lot like Bartoli, but lacks her confidence behind the mic. She’s quite new to commentary though, so that’s understandable.
Thank you this in great information
No Cliff Drysdale? He’s among the best for thoughtful watchers.