The problem with Netflix’s Break Point

Perhaps the most immediate sign of trouble with the second season of Netflix’s Break Point, the tennis spin-off of the streaming giant’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive, is the number of episodes. While its debut season last year contained 10, split across two parts, its follow-up features just six, forcing the show to squeeze a number of stories from a compelling year into an even shorter running time: Coco Gauff’s memorable victory at the US Open, where the American teenager brilliantly stepped into the void left by Serena Williams, is afforded just 20 minutes; Carlos Alcaraz’s remarkable Wimbledon triumph is lucky to receive about half that.

What Break Point did find room for, however, was a whole 46-minute episode dedicated to Alexander Zverev – a player who made an impressive return to the court in 2023 following a horrific ankle injury, but also one who is facing allegations of physical abuse from a former girlfriend. Have a guess: what do the documentary cameras focus on? Here’s a clue: it’s not the allegations of domestic abuse. In fact, those are not mentioned at all. And if the producers of Break Point weren’t able to cover the allegations for legal reasons, perhaps that should have been enough of a hint to find another subject to focus on.

Instead, Zverev, who has denied all of the allegations made against him, gets a pretty free ride. The 26-year-old German is not only framed as the comeback kid but as vindictive and vengeful – his episode is titled “Unfinished business”. He is introduced as an explosive, emotional competitor with a short fuse. Shots of Zverev, with his powerful 6ft 6in frame, destroying his racquets in anger are accompanied by bellowing shouts of frustration. He exudes swagger and confidence, joking that he was overlooked when Break Point took the decision to feature other players in its first season.

“You should have been filming me,” he grins. “There is just drama there.” It is far from the only time when Zverev, along with the production team, reveals a staggering lack of self-awareness, given the context of recent events.

In October, Zverev was issued with a penalty order and fined almost £400,000 by a Berlin court for committing bodily harm against his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Patea, who is also the mother of Zverev’s child. Patea alleged that in May 2020, Zverev had pushed her against the wall of their Berlin apartment and choked her. In Germany, a penalty order is issued by a public prosecutor’s office when a trial is not considered to be necessary, such as when there is compelling evidence to support one side of the case. Zverev denies the allegations – in November he said they were “bulls***” – and his lawyers have contested the fine. Zverev has the right to contest the penalty order, which would see the case move on to a public trial.

But it is not the first time Zverev has faced allegations of domestic abuse. Another former girlfriend of Zverev, Olga Sharypova, alleged in interviews with Racquet magazine in October 2020 and in Slate magazine in August 2021 that Zverev had physically abused her during their relationship. In the interviews, Sharypova alleged that Zverev had attempted to strangle her with a pillow and hit her head against a wall at their hotel in New York before the 2019 US Open, and also alleged other instances of physical abuse in hotel rooms in Geneva and Shanghai that year, which Sharypova said led to her attempting to take her own life.

Zverev strenuously denied the allegations, and in January 2023, following a 15-month investigation, the ATP announced that it would not be taking disciplinary action against him, citing “insufficient evidence” to substantiate the allegations. Sharypova did not report Zverev to the police and did not seek to take legal action against him, while Patea has said that she delayed filing a legal complaint because she felt ashamed. Following Patea’s allegations through the German legal system, the ATP said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the case.

What is clear is that Zverev and his team have granted excellent access to the documentary cameras (Getty)
What is clear is that Zverev and his team have granted excellent access to the documentary cameras (Getty)

Zverev, therefore, has been allowed to continue playing tennis, just as he was allowed to continue competing following Sharypova’s allegations and while he was under investigation by the ATP. And, though he was playing under a cloud, the career of one of the brightest stars in the sport initially continued on its upward trajectory. In 2022, in the season after winning the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, Zverev stood a match away from becoming world No 1 for the first time, only to suffer a horrendous injury in his French Open semi-final against Rafael Nadal. Zverev tore three ligaments in his ankle, and it was feared that the injury could end his career.

Zverev had to learn how to walk again, and it is his struggle to regain form and confidence during his comeback that his Break Point episode centres on – though not completely. An image is also painted of his life outside the court: his current girlfriend, the German actor and model Sophia Thomalla, is featured prominently, while the cameras follow Zverev as he attends a sponsor’s event in Monte Carlo, and again as he makes a speech about a foundation he has created to “help kids and people around the world with diabetes”. The polite applause that follows this vague announcement is included in the final cut.

There are plenty of other stories that Break Point could have followed in 2023, but what is clear is that Zverev and his team have granted excellent access to the documentary cameras, which is exactly what the show needs for it to be a success. Perhaps Zverev has more reason than most to be so willing and cooperative. This should not diminish Zverev’s comeback in 2023 or suggest it would not have been a worthy storyline to follow in other circumstances, but to give the German such prominence in what is now a limited series, with no mention of either of the two serious allegations of physical abuse against him, appears to whitewash the 26-year-old’s image.

And, if a running theme throughout the second season of Break Point is that the cameras spend too much time in the wrong place, here is a further example – all while managing to only tell one side of the story.

‘Break Point’ season two is out on Netflix on Wednesday 10 January