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By Blair Henley | Tuesday, April 15, 2014

 
Nadal visits Chris Fowler and Brad Gilbert

Rafael Nadal visited Brad Gilbert and Chris Fowler in the ESPN commentary booth during the 2010 US Open. 

(Photo Credit: DowntheLineTennis.com)

A member of ESPN’s tennis broadcast team since 2003, Chris Fowler’s commentary sounds effortless to the outside observer, like a friendly, focused conversation with a fellow tennis fan. But enhancing the rhythm of a match without obscuring its natural beauty is much like a Roger Federer backhand – harder than it looks. - See more at: http://www.tennisnow.com/News/Featured-News/Calling-the-Shots-Talking-Tennis-with-ESPN%E2%80%99s-Chri.aspx#sthash.86HasHSc.dpuf
A member of ESPN’s tennis broadcast team since 2003, Chris Fowler’s commentary sounds effortless to the outside observer, like a friendly, focused conversation with a fellow tennis fan. But enhancing the rhythm of a match without obscuring its natural beauty is much like a Roger Federer backhand – harder than it looks.

After signing a nine-year contract extension with ESPN in March, Fowler will be the voice of championship tennis for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the broadcast veteran gave us a look inside the commentary booth. Read Part II of our exclusive interview below. Click here to check out Part I


Do you think your role as a commentator/host is more important to the fan experience in a team sport like football? Or an individual sport like tennis?
That’s an interesting question. The mechanics of doing the two jobs are different. Football is a “see it and say it” experience. You’re trying to set the stage for what the viewer is seeing, and the focus is diffused between dozens of players. With tennis, you watch it, you observe it and you react to it, but the level of concentration that it takes to do a tennis match is at least as high or higher than football. It’s harder to do tennis well because there is so much restraint. In a typical point, a dozen things might pop into your head and you might say one or zero of them because you don’t know how it’s going to end.
 
You get to the point where you can read a player’s moods, sense momentum shifts, turning of the tide, which is what I think is important. The people who play the game at a high level will always see it in a way I never can. If you work with a guy who has played quarterback and studied the sport, you aren’t going to see it the same way he is. Your job is to get the best of [the analysts] and get them to follow up. It’s trusting your impulses, but also figuring out the best question to ask. What do I need to get out of the person sitting next to me?

A member of ESPN’s tennis broadcast team since 2003, Chris Fowler’s commentary sounds effortless to the outside observer, like a friendly, focused conversation with a fellow tennis fan. But enhancing the rhythm of a match without obscuring its natural beauty is much like a Roger Federer backhand – harder than it looks. - See more at: http://www.tennisnow.com/News/Featured-News/Calling-the-Shots-Talking-Tennis-with-ESPN%E2%80%99s-Chri.aspx#sthash.86HasHSc.dpuf

You called the 2012 Australian Open men’s final that lasted almost six hours. Honest question: Do you even have time to use the restroom?
(Laughs.) That’s the thing: When you do football games, the commercial breaks are two and a half, three minutes long. In tennis, it’s a minute in a half. Sprinting to the bathroom is challenging, but the laser-focus is the more important challenge. As the match unfolds, the points later are bigger than the ones at the beginning. You have to be at your best at the end. Patrick [McEnroe] and I were in the booth for well over seven hours, including the pre-match setup, six hours of match time, the ceremony and then finding the words to sum it up eight hours after you had gotten into the booth. It’s a challenge.
 
How tough is it when you get a match like the Indian Wells women’s final where Agnieszka Radwanska was clearly injured and the match wasn’t creating its own drama?
It’s your responsibility to keep people from tuning out even though they aren’t seeing the most compelling match. The biggest challenge is when there is only one major storyline. The Wimbledon women’s final was tough because [Sabine] Lisicki was frozen. You could see when she was handed the flowers before the match that she was in trouble. There was only one storyline: The girl was too nervous to play her best tennis. My job was to get out of Chrissie [Evert] both empathy and analysis, trying to get as much texture out of it as we could. When the tennis is not good, it’s not good. You can’t bring in substitutes; you can’t hope that 10 other players are playing well when another isn’t. When you have a bad match, it can be bad TV, and it’s your job to make the most of it.
 
The scene behind you on College GameDay is madness. Do you wish tennis fans could steal some of that enthusiasm?
I love the atmosphere of a college football game. It’s great when you have that in tennis as long as [fans] behave. You don’t want them interrupting play or being inappropriately enthused. It was on the edge there in Miami a couple of times. When you get an educated tennis public in there, they’ve seen a lot of stuff and it’s tough to get them going. When you see that normally reserved crowd go crazy, you know you’re watching something special, [like] Murray at Wimbledon or some of the great finals in Australia.
 
Which player really excites you right now?
It’s not a very imaginative answer, but I’m certainly very aware that we’re in a golden age in men’s tennis. Every time you get a chance to call a Federer match or a Nadal match or a Djokovic match, you realize it’s a privilege.  You can’t see those players play often enough because it will be over too soon. When this era passes, fans that didn’t fully appreciate what’s going on right now are going to really lament it. When we’re going to cover a tournament, it’s in our nature to say, "Don’t let Roger or Rafa lose before we get there!"
 
I watched you and Brad Gilbert call the Berdych/Dolgopolov match in Miami. You guys were wearing some sweet kicks (left). How important is foot comfort in your industry?
(Laughs.) Yeah, different tournaments have different uniforms. Miami is “dress for the air from the waist up.” Wimbledon is different. You dress head-to-toe at the All England Club, but Miami is different. A lot of times, you’re hanging out between matches. You have to remember, you’re in the tropics down there and the booths aren’t air-conditioned. 

 

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