Former US Olympian, Fed Cupper, top 20 WTA star and long-time tennis journalist and insider Andrea Leand reveals her picks as the best American tennis TV commentators. Readers are encouraged to comment on their picks for best TV commentators below in the comment section of this article, on the World Tennis Magazine Facebook page or via twitter at @WorldTennisMag
By Andrea Leand
It was well past midnight when Justin Gimelstob reached his hotel room and made do for dinner munching left over peanuts and olives. His last summer stop in NYC for a 18 day US Open stint as broadcaster for CBS and Tennis Channel capped a whirlwind schedule like none he knew when competing on the ATP Tour. While Gimelstob enjoyed his successes on tour as a top American junior, pro career high ranking of No. 63 and over 2.5 million in prize money. his infectious personality always seemed as big as, if not bigger than, his game. His quick wit, self-deprecating humor and keen enthusiasm for the sport have translated as well on television as they did in the locker room. He has shown the same determination to one day become a top broadcaster – like Matt Lauer – as he did maximizing his ability on court.
That’s not to say making the transition from court to commentator has been easy or – as in the case of his much tweeted, daily travails with blackberries, IPADS, flight times and passports – glamorous. With his many hats – he’s a member of the ATP Player Council – and recent marriage to Cary Sinnott, Gimelstob still has proven indefatigable in the booth. His hustling for interviews and candid insights add needed dimension to otherwise often staid broadcasts. His unflapable spirit and passion for the job have disarmed players like Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer and Serena Williams and given viewers cause to smile. Who else would gush about attending a three-hour NBC Olympic Seminar to get in word with Bob Costas and Al Michaels or be so enthused about getting to the courts at Wimbledon to commentate his first match of the day that he forgot his suit? Either way, Gimelstob has our attention as one of the top five faces to watch.
John McEnroe: No one is better than John McEnroe. His intelligence, experience, analytical preciseness and natural way of communicating in a poignant yet concise way make him the standard to which all others aspire.
Lindsay Davenport: Lindsay Davenport is the best female color commentator on air and hands down the “Newcomer of the Year.” Davenport is so politically correct these days and trying so hard to be a team player that she probably won’t like being singled out. But like it or not, she does stand out. Many have tried to emulate McEnroe, but, without the same smarts, insight and clarity, have failed miserably. Davenport is the only one who comes close. She doesn’t try too hard with overbearing, non-stop mumble jumble. She understands that she is covering pro tennis, not reporting on Iran for CNN. She realizes that the tennis is the star and never talks over points. Davenport also proves there is a shelf life to this job. Her insights show that she really knows the players. She has played against this generation of stars, been in the locker room with them and kept quiet tabs on everything that goes on. And like McEnroe, she is not afraid to be candid. Her remarks and smooth cadence in communicating them to the viewers make her easy on the ears and interesting to even the game’s insiders.
Rennae Stubbs: Australian-born Stubbs has been commentating for non-American channels for years, so it is difficult to call her a newcomer – but she is one to American audiences who enjoyed her comments during the Italian, French, Wimbledon and Olympic broadcasts. Stubbs loves the game, lives the tour and has infused that intrinsic knowledge in her capacity as commentator. Who else could describe once taking Samantha Stosur to the emergency room in Miami as she did? Such anecdotes and experiences make her a welcome breathe of fresh air and material While Stubbs is a ham and loves the spotlight, she handles being the (third) man on the commentating team – the point person on court-well, she doesn’t talk over her colleagues or points but gives well-placed, quick witted observations.
Brett Haber:Most of the company play by play guys are well healed professionals, who all do a pretty good job. Brett earns kudos for his efforts in going beyond in doing his homework about the players and matches so that he can converse with his color commentators and bring out their best insights.
Darren Cahill, Brad Gilbert, Patrick McEnroe: All terrific, all with their own styles. All professional, knowledgeable and with undeniable channels to the players and behind the scenes business of the game. They are also true team players. But some have wondered if they lose their individual identity when sandwiched together.
Mary Joe Fernandez: Bright, capable and with undeniable channels to the players as US Fed Cup captain (and marriage to Federer agent Tony Godsick). Mary Joe has the material and the discipline to be a valuable member of the team – when she is able to get a word in edgewise.
Tracy Austin: We haven’t seen as much of Austin this year as she has been commentating for the BBC. But in a career where aesthetics count, Austin deserves recognition for best presentation. Her hair, make-up and attire are always perfectly put together, age appropriate and camera friendly-and something her female colleagues should take note.