NBC is finally doing right by tennis fans, sort of.
For the past 23 years, the network has blacked out or tape delayed the men's semifinals at the French Open, much to the consternation and ire of tennis fans across the country. This year, for the first time, NBC will stream the second men's semifinal live on the Internet, meaning the Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic blockbuster will be shown in real time for fans.
Not so fast, my friends. It wouldn't be NBC if there wasn't a catch.
Here's the situation, as reported by Tom Perrotta of The Wall Street Journal: The first match, between Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, will be broadcast live coast-to-coast on The Tennis Channel at 8 a.m. ET. It will air on the network until its conclusion. If it lasts until 11 a.m. ET, NBC will pick up coverage then, after the "Today" show ends.
No matter what, NBC will begin live coverage at 11 a.m. ET. If the Federer-Djokovic match has already started, the network will start it from the beginning, even if it's only a few games old. If it has yet to begin when it goes on air, NBC will show the match live to the Eastern half of the country. Either way, the match will stream on NBCSports.com.
Viewers in the West will still have to watch the television broadcast of Federer-Djokovic on tape delay.
If you're on the East Coast, the hope is that Murray-Nadal goes longer than three hours so the Federer-Djokovic match can be shown live on television. The Internet stream is nice but far from the ideal way to watch a marquee match.
All in all, this is good news for tennis fans, who would have had to follow Fed-Nole via Internet updates or illegal European streams if it wasn't shown live. But the fact that everybody is so happy about this speaks volumes about the low expectations NBC has set for itself with tennis coverage.
Watching Federer-Djokovic live shouldn't be an issue. It should have always been streaming on the Internet or joined live in progress by NBC. It's 2011 and we're talking about tape delay? This isn't the 1978 NBA Finals, y'all. When NBC tape delays the Olympics, I get that, even if I don't agree with it. It's a primetime cash cow and they want to have the most eyes on it as possible. Weekday French Open coverage is geared toward tennis fans. Were the casual viewers that came in on a Friday morning more important than the countless tennis fans alienated by the decision? (This goes back as far as 1988, when fans were irate that the Mats Wilander-Andre Agassi match wasn't on live.)
This is a conversation for another day. Now's not the time for complaint. NBC decided to enter the 21st century of sports coverage and tennis fans will have a more enjoyable Friday because of it.
Rejoice. For once.