In the sixth episode of the Netflix documentary series “Break Point” Ajla Tomljanovic, a tennis player who has spent much of the last decade in the Top 100 world rankings, is shown sprawled on an exercise mat in a drab training room after reaching the 2022 Wimbledon quarterfinals. His father, Ratko, stretches his hamstrings. She receives a congratulatory phone call from her sister and another from her idol-turned-mentor, 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert, before Ratko announces that it’s time for the dreaded ice bath. “By the way,” Tomljanovic says at one point, “do we have a room?” Shortly after her daughter secured her place in the final eight of the world’s top tennis tournament, Ratko was spotted on booking.com, extending her stay in London.
This is not the stuff of your typical sports documentary, but it is the life of a professional tennis player. Traveling around the world for much of the year with only a small circle of coaches, physiotherapists and perhaps a parent, they bear alone the bureaucratic irritations that, in other elite sports, might be outsourced to agents and managers. If in some tournaments they surprise even themselves by outlasting their hotel accommodation, most events will only toughen them up to the standard torments of the circuit, reminding them weekly of their place in the pecking order. As Taylor Fritz, now the highest-ranked American player, comments on an episode of “Break Point,” “It’s hard to be happy in tennis, because every week everyone loses but one person.” This is a sobering audit, coming from a player who earns considerably more than his 2,000 or so tour companions.
“Break Point,” executive produced by Paul Martin and Oscar-winning filmmaker James Gay-Rees, came this year as a gift to tennis fans, for whom glitzy, well-produced and easily accessible documentaries about the sport they have been hard to come by. get. Tennis, today, stands in the twilight of an era where at least five different players – the Williams sisters, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – have surely deserved their own miniseries. But the sport has never enjoyed its own “All or Nothing,” Amazon’s all-access show that follows a different professional sports team each season, or event-television status bestowed on “The last Dance,” the Netflix docuseries about Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, with its luxury suite of talking heads: Nas, Isiah Thomas, “former Chicagoan” Barack Obama. Perhaps this is because the genre’s narrative tropes tend toward triumphs and Gatorade showers, while the procedural and psychological realities of professional tennis lie elsewhere. The 10 episodes of “Break Point” make tennis unromantic: This is the rare sports documentary whose main theme is loss.
In Andre Agassi’s memorably candid memoir, “Open,” he describes the tennis calendar with subtle poetry, detailing “how we started the year on the other side of the world, at the Australian Open, and then just chased the sun.” This itinerary more or less dictates the structure of the “Break Point”, which opens at the first Grand Slam of the year and closes at the year-end championships in November. At each tournament, the players he spotlights post impressive results, and then usually lose, sometimes frustrated by the stubborn luminaries of the sport, but more often by nervous breakdowns or exhaustion. They find solace where they can, juggling a football or kicking back with some self-made R.&B. track in a hotel room. But many tears are shed, after which they redouble their commitments to work harder, be smarter, be hungrier. “You have to be cool to build a champion mentality,” says Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas.