By Ros Satar & Alessandro Mastoluca

  • ATP & WTA Tennis stars joined together for a charity virtual Mutua Madrid Open
  • Kiki Bertens and Andy Murray crowned champions
  • WTA announce Stay At Home Slam using Mario

MADRID, SPAIN – The Mutua Madrid Open crowned defending WTA champion Kiki Bertens and two-time former champion Andy Murray champions of the virtual tournament.

 

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5 Thoughts on the Virtual Mutua Madrid Open

As Kiki Bertens and Andy Murray completed four days of competition, with the latter’s commentary on what his player avatar was doing being one of the highlights, Ros Satar and Alessandro Mastroluca got their (socially distanced) heads together to reflect on the week.

 

The Connectivity

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RS:  Pro Gamers work in professional studio set-ups with robust connections – this is being done largely off home Wi-Fi routers globally… with the rest of the globe also working at home. There were glitches. There were many. Murray’s semi-final with Diego Schwartzman had to be stopped and started as points for Murray were being counted as double bounces and being awarded to the Argentine, and despite replaying the semi-final off-stream, in the end Schwartzman graciously suggested that Murray be advanced to the final because of the issues.

 

AM: Clearly, this has been a somewhat amateurish experiment. If tennis wants to explore the path of the e-sports, it needs an appropriate infrastructure. Gael Monfils having to retire because of conflicting rights between two streaming platforms shows that our sport has a long way to go.

 

The Presenters

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RS: Oh dear dear. It was a mixed bag and it got off to a very bad start with Brandon Smith, an e-sports commentator, consistently mangling names while his co-presenter and e-sports tennis gamer Lorenzo Cioffi managed to paper over the cracks correcting the pronunciation.

Guest presenters Àlex Corretje and Feliciano Lopez did their best to suggest that the presenters shut up through the play – it did not always work though.

Tennis is an exacting audience – people know their stuff and get exasperated with people talking like they know about the sport when they clearly don’t – Day 2’s commentators were better and had obviously listened to the feedback, and tried to stay quiet so viewers could hear the players bantering between themselves – which let’s face it, was the real reason to watch.

 

AM: The average expected knowledge that the audience of a tennis match can have is the real challenge for tennis commentators. Finding the right balance to show specific know-how without taking the match too seriously given the situation surely wasn’t easy.

 

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The Banter (when we could see/hear it)

RS: Some of the trash talk and commentary by players was gold. Step forward Mr Murray in his opening match lamenting where his player was going (clearly not in the direction he wanted)!

 

 

AM: Yes, the more we know about Murray as a man, the more we appreciate him as a player. Often over-criticised for his on-court behaviour, he’s the next-door champion. Fans can identify themselves with him: his reactions playing videogames are our reactions as well. Both the documentary “Resurfacing” and his streams during the virtual Madrid Open could give fans reasons to re-evaluate their image of the Wimbledon champion. Generally speaking, next time organisers could also decide to leave space almost exclusively to the players’ streams.

 

Not everyone’s cup of tea

RS: Some people HATE the idea of virtual tennis but in a time when people are desperately missing the sport, it will appeal to some as an outlet.

As reported by ATPTour.com, Murray said: “We raised a lot of money for some good causes. It was nice, personally, to spend a little bit of time chatting to some of the players. [It is] something that I have missed during this period and something that I have been used to for the past 12, 14 years of my life… It was something I have never done before. Thanks to everyone who put the event on.”

It was fun to watch some players’ interactions – and as the tournament went on, the players’ competitive instincts certainly came to the fore! At the end of the day – it was four days of a little escapism for people in uncertain times, with money going to help people in need during these unprecedented times.

 

AM: Players can hate e-sports, like Sebastian Vettel from Ferrari hates virtual F1 races while his team-mate Charles Leclerc is the new star of that virtual series. Clearly, during these painful times, it’s a more or less brilliant disguise of a real match.

Looking at the broader picture, e-sports as a whole generated more than $1bn in 2019. Tennis has a global reach and needs to attract younger fans throughout the world. Video-games can be one of the answers, possibly organising virtual tournaments combined with real events.

In 2019 Roland Garros ran an e-sports tournament as part of the fortnight’s overall tournament.

 

The Platform

RS: It has a LOT of potential, but Facebook Gaming might not have been the best platform. Twitch is widely regarded as THE platform for live online gaming and some licencing issues may well have forced their hand here, but surely some potential to look into twitch and working alongside tournaments

Also Tennis is a sport that is very hard to translate into an appealing e-sport – TopSpin was I think the only game I played on a PS3 – and I think we can discount Wii Tennis outside Christmas parties when people are way too drunk to care…

 

AM: Twitch is affirming as the platform to choose for live gaming events. Surely there’s a potential in this kind of events, involving also the YouTube official channels to raise the viewers. It’s time for tennis to work for an official video-game of the Tour. The difficulty to recreate all the variables involved in a match has been an obstacle so far, in fact there isn’t a convincing, realistic, tennis simulation, but almost exclusively arcade-like video-games. Hard doesn’t mean impossible, however. The line between games and movies became thin, or even non-existent. The time has come to bridge the gap between real sports and their electronic counterparts.

 

WTA announces the ‘Stay at Home Slam’

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Hot on the heels of the Virtual Madrid Open, the WTA announced that on Sunday, IMG stars including Serena and Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka and Maria Sharapova – using Mario Tennis Aces.

As with the virtual Madrid edition, the streaming will be on Facebook Gaming and IMG Tennis Facebook Page.

Players will have celebrity partners;

  • Serena Williams & Gigi Hadid
  • Naomi Osaka & Hailey Bieber
  • Venus Williams & JuJu Smith-Schuster
  • Maria Sharapova & Karlie Kloss
  • Kei Nishikori & Steve Aoki
  • Madison Keys & Seal
  • Taylor Fritz & Addison Rae
  • Kevin Anderson & Ryan Tannehill

John McEnroe and YouTube personality iJustine (Justine Ezarik) will be commentating.

 

The Stay at Home Slam takes place on Sunday 3 May, 1pm (9pm BST).

 

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