Tennis

REVIEW: 4 well-served themes in Netflix’s tennis docu-series ‘Break Point’

Beatrice Go
REVIEW: 4 well-served themes in Netflix’s tennis docu-series ‘Break Point’

AWESOME AUSSIES. A poster featuring Australia's Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis is seen at Melbourne Park.

Carl Recine/REUTERS

The documentary series follows the journeys of breakout stars and rising names like Nick Kyrgios, Ons Jabeur, Taylor Fritz, and Maria Sakkari 

Released before the start of the year-opening Grand Slam, Netflix’s Break Point hopes to help set tennis up for success this year. 

The show follows the sport’s up and coming stars in their ultimate goal to be “next big thing” in tennis history. Set in the colorful year of 2022, sports continues to prove that it will never be without surprises and drama as it was jam-packed with major upsets and big decisions by tennis greats. 

In 2022, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, who were part of the list of age-defying athletes, announced their retirement from tennis. In the men’s game, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are the remaining legends in the sport, stirring up the younger generation’s goal to unseat them from their thrones. On the women’s side, there remains to be no clear favorite as the current pool of players are equally competitive and physical, showing how tennis becomes a game of mental strength in every tournament. 

Though Break Point did not cover the full drama and nitty-gritty details of a tennis game, the docu-series was aimed to increase tennis viewership this year and sustain fan engagement from the younger generations. 

From the storytelling to the editing, it all appeals to the late millennial and Gen Z audiences – personality-focused, highlight culture, dramatic slow-mos, cuts and transitions. 

But Season 1’s first five episodes were able to unpack a few themes that the sport and its athletes are currently facing in order to drive change. (Heads up! Spoiler alert!) 

Going back to the love of the game

Episode 1 zones into Nick Kyrgios’ life. Notorious for his impulsive statements and racket-breaking behavior on the court, Break Point spins Kyrgios’ reputation into a “maverick” by showing how difficult it was for him to deal with the pressure of winning and stewarding his great talent in the sport. 

Criticized, yet self-admittedly a “part-time tennis player,” Kyrgios reveals he’s been on-and-off tennis because of the need to take some time away to relieve himself of the pressure. But contrary to this, he finds an antidote in his tennis comeback in the 2022 Australian Open. 

After being booted out in Round 2 of the men’s singles draw, Kyrgios teams up with long-time buddy and fellow Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis in the men’s doubles but with the lone goal of just “having fun.” But after disposing top-seeded Croatian pair of Nikola Mektić and Mate Pavić, they suddenly saw a chance that they could win their first Grand Slam title together. 

Australian fans gave them the moniker of K2 or “Cereal Killers” and put up fan signs using the logo of Kellogg’s Cereal during their matches. The Kyrgios-Kokkinakis duo slayed their opponents with their entertaining tennis, banked on the joy of playing instead of the pressure of winning. 

Friendship and strong connection beyond the game were shown to be incredibly important in doubles pairs. Photos of a young Kyrgios and Kokkinakis and a scene of them playing a party game together showed the strength of their relationship. When Kyrgios started to spiral down because of a slew of mistakes, it was Kokkinakis who stepped up to fight back. 

Then it was a happy ending after all when the Australian pair lifted their first Grand Slam title in the men’s doubles event. 

A huge mind game

The docu-series showed how tennis players have to live with the tension of confidence and self-doubt, balancing pressure and expectations and remaining methodical and disciplined with their routines. 

World No. 6 Maria Sakkari, who is described to have an archetype of a “Greek warrior,” carries the burden of winning her first major title. She talks about the different voices in her head and demonstrates incredible self-awareness as she processes her performances and skills after every game. 

World No. 35 Alja Tomljanovic also expressed the same struggles especially when she made a first-round exit against Spaniard Paula Badosa in the 2022 Australian Open. 

In the competitive women’s game, the margin of victory is so narrow because no matter how physically skilled and prepared a player is, the wins boil down to the mental tenacity of the players. 

Badosa, world No. 2, was one of the first tennis players to be open about her battle with depression and anxiety after she struggled adjusting to the women’s game. There was a surge of expectations after she won the 2015 French Open girls singles title. She advocates for athletes to be more open about their vulnerabilities because it’s not a sign of weakness. 

“A lot of people don’t talk about it because they feel they’re going to be weaker, but I think it’s totally the opposite. I’m fighting a lot mentally to try and find myself again,” Badosa says. 

On the men’s side, Kyrgios dives into detail about how he struggled to deal with the pressure and expectations on his unorthodox talent after he upset Rafael Nadal in the 2014 Wimbledon Championships at 17 years old. 

His manager Daniel Horsfall shared that Kyrgios needed to have his location turned on for him to find the tennis prodigy when he had periods of drinking every night. 

But American Taylor Fritz showed how self-belief and confidence can prevail even in the toughest of situations in the sport. 

Fritz burst into the top 10 of men’s tennis after a stellar 2022 season and Break Point captures how he battled an ankle fracture against Nadal to win his first major title – the 2022 Indian Wells Championship – in his hometown in California. 

Fritz remained determined to play “the match of his life,” while his whole team and medics recommended him to pull out of the final. The American was known to have the “strongest willpower” as described by his coach Paul Annacone, who mentored tennis greats Roger Federer and Pete Sampras. And that willpower propelled him to an unforgettable Masters 1000 straight-set over 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal. 

Tennis players may also be the most disciplined type of athletes as any disruption to their routines becomes an issue. Norway’s Casper Ruud and his team were angry at tournament officials for closing his practice court even without rain in the 2022 Roland Garros tournament. Italy’s Matteo Berretini also had a heated conversation with former girlfriend Tomljanovic about requesting to move to another room when she had to wake up early for a TV segment. Nadal was also constantly seen warming up with the same routine before his big games. 

The importance of support systems

Tennis players are constantly traveling all over the world, which costs them time with their family and friends. But the right relationships matter when they are playing at a very high level. 

Netflix features the parents and the players’ romantic relationships on how they have to compromise and support the needs of high-level athletes. 

Taylor Fritz mentioned that he was “playing his best” while he was in a relationship with influencer Morgan Riddle. In the French Open, Felix Auger-Aliassime’s family came to surprise him for his 22nd birthday as the Canadian started traveling on his own at the age of nine years old for tennis. 

Break Point also covered the inspiring relationship between world No. 2 Ons Jabeur from Tunisia and her husband Karim Kamoun, who joined her team as a fitness trainer because of lack of funding. The couple had to establish professional and personal boundaries and rules in order for them to work together. 

Breaking barriers in gender and culture

Jabeur took the tennis world by a storm in 2022 as she became the first Arab and African woman to win a WTA 1000 title in the Madrid Open, and make it to two Grand Slam finals. 

The tennis ace, 28, shared that people had expectations of her becoming a housewife if she had failed to clinch tennis success because of the culture in Tunisia. But she was determined to realize her dream. 

In a sweet scene of Kamoun taking the camera to film Jabeur, the couple shared that they mutually agreed to push back their dream of having a family for success in tennis. 

Jabeur lamented that it isn’t as easy for women to get back to their top-level performance after pregnancy. The couple also breaks the culture of patriarchal societies as Kamoun openly takes Jabeur’s Grand Slam dream as his own. 

While other top-level players search for decorated coaches of legends to fortify their teams, Jabeur has for so long decided to stick with her all-Tunisian team composed of her husband and Issam Jellali. 

But the women’s players have also put up a challenge for tennis to continue battling for equal prize money in their respective tours. Excluding the four Grand Slams, The Financial Times reported that the prize money in the men’s tour ATP is 75% higher than that of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) events. 

With Break Point’s first season in the bag, will this drive the change needed in the future of tennis? – Rappler.com 

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Beatrice Go

More commonly known as Bee, Beatrice Go is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Philippine sports governance, national teams, football, and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.