Early within the second episode of “Break Level,” the brand new Netflix documentary sequence in regards to the professional tennis tour, Spanish star Paula Badosa explains that the game “is a drug” — an habit that we study later within the sequence doesn’t all the time serve her effectively.
However as bodily grinding and mentally taxing as tennis will be, the burning ambition to compete and the adrenaline rush of enjoying in entrance of 15,000 individuals normally trumps all the pieces for the elite gamers on the planet.
Now, the game’s gatekeepers hope the identical excessive will translate to a brand new legion of followers who’ve barely, if ever, watched a match earlier than.
Created by the identical staff that helped increase Formulation 1’s mainstream reputation with “Drive to Survive,” Friday’s launch of “Break Level” coincides with the start of the Australian Open and a season of potential transition within the sport.
Roger Federer is gone, having retired formally in September. Serena Williams performed her last match finally yr’s U.S. Open after saying an “evolution” away from tennis. Rafael Nadal begins 2023 because the all-time Grand Slam king with 22 main titles however will flip 37 in June and is simply 4-7 since pulling out of final yr’s Wimbledon semifinals with an damage.
At this level, the one one of many remaining legends who appears poised to squeeze extra out of their prime is Novak Djokovic, who’s again in Australia going for his tenth title there after the weird occasions of final January when he was detained after which deported as a result of he had not met the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination pointers for entry. (In November, he was granted a visa to play in 2023 after Australia eradicated a rule requiring all worldwide vacationers be vaccinated).
Rafael Nadal hits a backhand throughout an Australian Open observe session in Rod Laver Area at Melbourne Park on Jan. 12.
Although none of these all-time greats are featured characters in “Break Level,” they’re in fact a big a part of the narrative. Nadal, particularly, casts a large shadow over the primary 5 episodes, which take viewers from Australia by the French Open — each occasions the place Nadal took the title final yr. The remainder of the episodes, masking the second half of 2022, will drop in June earlier than Wimbledon.
From a bigger institutional standpoint, tennis has dreaded the day when its most bankable, beloved stars would now not be capable of carry the game to tv audiences and ticket consumers all over the world.
In that sense, it gave the creators of “Break Level” a simple framing to create characters out of gamers that almost all informal or non-tennis followers would unlikely have heard of: Who’s subsequent, and what does it actually take to get to the highest?
Viewers who might have an impression of tennis as a genteel, nation membership sport will definitely come away with a a lot totally different impression of the anxiousness, loneliness and troublesome well being decisions gamers must make as they pursue their goals.
“I’ve skilled my entire life for this second,” American Taylor Fritz says as he’s weighing whether or not to take the courtroom towards Nadal in final yr’s Indian Wells last although medical doctors have instructed him he might be risking long-term damage to his foot and his coaches are imploring him to not play. “If I pulled out, I’d be occupied with this perpetually.”
In that respect, “Break Level” works precisely because it was meant, constructing personalities and storylines that may probably appear extra attention-grabbing and recent to new followers than these with a deep information of the game.
What “Break Level” could be lacking, at the least compared to “Drive to Survive,” is battle and rivalry. Tennis is a brutal sport in some ways, and the present makes clear how draining it’s for many gamers to lose each week however hold displaying up on the subsequent cease on tour — however the gamers themselves could be too good.
Felix Auger-Aliassime hits a shot towards Jack Draper throughout their U.S. Open match in August.
Even the debut episode, which is constructed round tennis dangerous boy Nick Kyrgios and his career-long wrestle to deal with huge expectations, doesn’t tackle the quite a few on- and off-court run-ins he’s had with rivals through the years.
About as shut because the sequence involves true battle happens within the fifth episode when younger Canadian star Felix Auger-Aliassime meets Nadal on the French Open, placing coach Toni Nadal within the awkward place between the nephew he coached to his first 16 Grand Slam titles and his present pupil. However even Uncle Toni’s controversial dealing with of the scenario principally will get shrugged off by the gamers themselves, leaving viewers questioning whether or not the storyline actually went wherever.
Whereas there will likely be a lot extra nits for tennis followers to select with the sequence, “Break Level” will nearly definitely entice some new eyeballs to tennis, which is why the boys’s and ladies’s excursions, all 4 Grand Slams and a bunch of greater than a dozen gamers gave Netflix important entry to their on- and off-court lives.
If these new viewers (and present followers) tune in for the Australian Open, listed here are some storylines they’re more likely to see.
Can Novak Djokovic match Rafael Nadal with 22 Grand Slams?
After being unable to play the U.S. Open on account of his unvaccinated standing, Djokovic tore by the top of the 2022 season, profitable 18 of 19 matches together with the year-end ATP Finals. Djokovic appeared each bit the Australian Open favourite throughout a warm-up occasion in Adelaide however did choose up a minor hamstring damage that would show problematic.
Can Nadal survive a brutal draw?
After final yr’s miracle title in Australia, we’ve discovered to by no means rely him out. However past damage and kind points, Nadal additionally bought a really powerful path together with a harmful opener towards gifted 21-year-old Brit Jack Draper, who’s already as much as No. 40 on the planet and ought to be top-20 by the top of this yr. Past that, he might must get by rising American Brandon Nakashima within the second spherical, Frances Tiafoe within the spherical of 16 and Daniil Medvedev within the quarterfinals.
If not Iga Swiatek, then who?
Iga Swiatek captured 2022’s last Slam, on the U.S. Open in New York.
The dominant No. 1 participant on the ladies’s facet, Swiatek is available in as the favourite. Although she’s confirmed herself loads of occasions on exhausting courts, together with on the U.S. Open, she is considerably extra weak within the sooner circumstances which might be typical of Melbourne. However there’s no clear second tier within the girls’s recreation in the meanwhile, which implies the draw might open for any of 25 or 30 gamers to make a last. One participant price maintaining a tally of is American Jessica Pegula, who has grow to be very constant on the Slams and beat Swiatek at a warm-up occasion.
Sadly for “Break Level” followers, two of the sequence’ stars — Ajla Tomljanovic and Badosa — needed to pull out of the match on account of accidents. Tomljanovic and her then-boyfriend, Matteo Berrettini, have been the main target of the second episode of the sequence whereas Badosa opens up about psychological well being struggles within the fourth episode centered across the Madrid Open in her hometown. Final week, two-time Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka introduced she is not going to compete in 2023 as a result of she is pregnant. However the match’s most disappointing loss from a aggressive standpoint is males’s No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz. Since his breakthrough Grand Slam title on the U.S. Open, the 19-year-old has struggled with accidents together with a leg drawback he developed throughout a current observe match.
Who’s primed to win their first main?
Followers of American Taylor Fritz needed to love what they noticed from the 25-year-old on the season-opening United Cup the place his large serve was firing and he notched a number of high quality wins. As much as No. 9 on the planet, Fritz has proven he can compete with, and at occasions, beat the perfect on the common tour. He has come near doing it at Grand Slams however hasn’t closed the deal but. The draw units up effectively for him to make a semifinal run right here, the place he’d probably draw Djokovic. If she will hold it collectively mentally and play with self-discipline, the circumstances are well-suited for big-hitting Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka to interrupt by.
Observe USA TODAY Sports activities columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken
This text initially appeared on USA TODAY: Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek headline Australian Open storylines to observe