This is the fourth year that Catherine Whitaker and myself have produced daily editions of The Tennis Podcast from the US Open. The first in 2016 was the toughest. Done as an experiment to see if it was possible, it often ended with us recording while walking to the bus at 1am (you may remember the walking-into-a-tree, and arguing with bus-driver episodes), me editing and uploading the podcast at 3am, falling asleep on my laptop, finishing the upload at 7am, and then trying to tweet the links out for people to listen to.
The next two years, backed by listeners in our now annual crowdfunding effort, we hired an editor to help us, and Matt Roberts (formerly known as Student Matt, and then Grad Matt) started working for us a lot, taking over all social media duties. It made a world of difference. Matt also helped with research for Catherine and myself to do our day jobs for Amazon Prime Video and BBC Radio 5 Live respectively.
This year, our listeners helped us to give Matt a full-time job and bring him to the Australian Open in January. He was a revelation, adding to every aspect of what we did. So we brought him to the French Open for the first 9 days as well. The US Open was a stretch too far for our budget though, so he stayed home and helped us, enormously, from afar.
This is what a typical Grand Slam daily Tennis Podcast looks like for us…
Tuesday 3rd September, 2019.
1.19am (6.19am UK)
I’ve just uploaded the Tennis Podcast for Day 8 of the US Open.
It began at 7pm NY time in the back of a car on our return from the day session. We compared our experiences of the lightning storms at Flushing Meadows (Catherine evacuated, me soaked), we travelled over 59th Street Bridge (and got in trouble with Mary Carillo for not knowing it was: a) wonderful and b) had been made famous by a Simon and Garfunkel song), and compared notes about the defeat of World No.1 and defending champion Naomi Osaka at the hands of Belinda Bencic. What, how and why did it happen?
After 12 minutes, and before we’d got onto anything else, we arrived at Catherine’s hotel. I tend to keep the recorder rolling because I like the sounds of the car horns as we get out into the New York night, however on this occasion the batteries had died, so the recording stopped abruptly seconds before arrival.
Once inside Catherine’s hotel, she got the beers and whiskies in, I changed the batteries and we set up in the lobby to try to understand why Donna Vekic vs. Julia Goerges was so stressful to watch, why Alexander Zverev was slagging off Daniil Medvedev, and a big argument took place about whether Matteo Berrettini beating Andrey Rublev was an upset or not. We also previewed Wednesday, and gave a big ‘get well soon’ to listener Allen Harris, who is in hospital after suffering injuries following a car crash.
With 37 minutes recorded, (most dailies are between 30 and 40 minutes long), and Rafael Nadal vs. Marin Cilic about to start in the evening session, we went our separate ways. Catherine needed to be up at 6am, we weren’t expecting anything dramatic in the night session, so I recorded the conclusion to the pod.
After a quick dinner, I watched Nadal hit a logic-defying forehand around the net-post to beat Marin Cilic, and Bianca Andreescu in full, brilliant ‘Check Me Out’ mode. A brief, pod-concluding monologue, edit and upload later, I went to bed.
It was 6.19am in England.
Matt was already up to prepare the newsletter (including Matt’s Stat), listen to the podcast, tweet some highlights, and write a piece for the Telegraph sport website.
7.03am NY (12.03pm UK)
My alarm goes off. Catherine is already in ‘hair and make-up’, preparing to present the Amazon Prime Video television coverage. Matt asks us for daily newsletter predictions. A WhatsApp argument ensues about what is and isn’t allowed as a prediction.
Catherine settles on Federer in 3 sets, allowable in the latter stages of Slams despite its inevitability because she has been prepared to state number of sets, and there aren’t many matches to choose from. Everyone agrees it’s a shame for Grigor, but wouldn’t it be great if he could make a match of it, but he won’t because he never does. I pick Konta to beat Svitolina and Matt takes Wawrinka to knock out Medvedev. Spirits are high and a full-house of correct predictions is expected.
10.30am NY (3.30pm UK)
Catherine goes live on Amazon Prime Video, previewing the day’s action with Daniela Hantuchova and Greg Rusedski, and welcoming special guest Virginia Wade. She is a delight. After discussing the quarterfinals, they look back on Wade’s title win in 1968, and her eyes light up when discussing the increasing prevalence today of serve-and-volley tennis. They light up again, with bemusement, when Catherine introduces her to the work of GEMS LIFE.
11am NY (4pm UK)
I go live on BBC Radio, commentating on Konta vs. Svitolina and Wawrinka vs. Medvedev.
Medvedev, wrapped in various bandages, wins the first set on a tie-break having hit 9 double-faults.
Matt: I don’t even know what to think about this match, let alone tweet.
Catherine: Everything is weird today. Although I just got some serious dog action into the Prime coverage. And I just gave Amy Schumer directions.
David: Who is Amy Schumer?
5.30pm NY (10.30pm UK)
Medvedev completes victory in 4 sets, Catherine and guests try to make sense of what they’ve seen on Prime Video, and Catherine hands to the Victoria Azarenka/Ash Barty doubles match.
I’ve finished commentary and been given an hour off before the night session, so I head to to the Prime set, Catherine leaves her studio seat and part 1 of the Day 9 Tennis Podcast commences next to the practice courts.
After 7 minutes of chat about the discombobulation of Wawrinka, ’Windy’, the Prime Video floor manager holds up a sign telling Catherine she is needed back on set because the Barty and Azarenka doubles is about to end. Pod recording pauses.
5 minutes later, false alarm as Azarenka / Barty force a third set.
Pod recording recommences. Catherine and I spend 16 further minutes swapping notes on the matches we’ve seen, the things we’ve heard, and the arrival of Dimitrov on to the practice courts ahead of his match with Federer. Bless him, he won’t win, but he’s going to try.
7pm NY (Midnight UK)
Catherine’s Prime Video presenting shift ends and she heads back to the city.
I’m working the night shift for BBC Radio 5 Live, expecting a quiet, short evening with half-hourly bulletin updates and the occasional chat about how good Serena Williams and Roger Federer are. At the end of play, after everything has happened as expected, I’ll file an update to the podcast on Serena and Federer’s wins. This won’t be anything like a year earlier when I sat in the same commentary box describing the exit of Federer at the hands of John Millman. Not even the amusing but irrelevant coincidence that Matt, like on Millman night, has decided to go to bed so that he can be up early to prepare everything for the next day, is alarming us.
8.30pm NY (1.30am UK)
Serena completes victory 6-1, 6-0 in 44 minutes.
Federer vs. Dimitrov begins.
8.51pm NY (1.51am UK)
Federer takes a 3-0 lead after 7 minutes.
Catherine: Taxi for Mr Dimitrov.
David: No thanks, he’ll call when he needs it.
9.29pm NY (2.29am UK)
Federer 6-3, 2-4 Dimitrov.
I tweet: ‘Nobody puts Baby Fed in the corner’.
I wait for ‘likes’ and congratulations which don’t come, and then send it to Catherine to try to get some credit from her.
Catherine Tweets: ‘Law’s in charge of Twitter tonight folks. And doing Dirty Dancing gags.’
David: Dimitrov looks bloody dangerous tonight. Not seen him look like this before against Federer.
Catherine: David knows things.
David: This could happen.
Catherine: Federer’s forehand looks dodgy. He did look nervous walking out. But I have no confidence that Dimitrov will close it out if he gets close to the finish line.
10pm NY (3am UK)
Federer 6-3, 4-6, 2-3 Dimitrov.
Catherine: Federer is sweating. A lot.
David: Dimitrov has never played like this against him before. He’s staying with him, using his athleticism, and Federer’s game is going off.
Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 2-3 Dimitrov.
Catherine: Just requested with the ATP for Grigor to come into our studio tomorrow if he wins.
Catherine: You were the one that made me feel confident he would win. And I can’t see Fed winning in 5. #logic
David: I still think Federer will edge him.
Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 3-4 Dimitrov.
David: Ok, now I think Dimitrov will win.
David: These are bad misses.
Catherine: It’s how he looks. Millman-esque. Pale.
David: He suddenly looks hurt. I know your alarm goes off in 7 hours, but if he loses would you come on the pod first to talk about it?
11.48pm NY (4.48am UK)
Dimitrov d. Federer 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
I describe the end of the match live on BBC Radio 5 Live in the UK.
Suddenly, with Britain waking up to the news, interest piles in from other BBC outlets wanting to hear about Federer’s shock defeat. The Radio 4 Today programme with its 7 million listeners (including The Queen), 5 Live Breakfast, BBC Television News, BBC World TV, BBC World Service radio.
12.10am NY (5.10am UK)
Federer enters the press conference room, confirms he had an upper back injury, but this is ‘Grigor’s moment, not my body’s moment.’
Dimitrov follows him, celebrating his first win over Federer in 8 attempts.
David: Right Catherine, ready when you are.
I’d like to try to record this and race for the 12.30am bus.
12.20am NY (5.20am UK)
David: Catherine, are you there?
David: You’re asleep, aren’t you?
I catch the 12.30am bus back to Manhattan and decide to record the closing section to the podcast in my hotel.
12.50am NY (5.50am UK)
The bus arrives at the hotel.
12.52am NY (5.52am UK)
12.57am NY (5.57am UK)
David: Matt! Yep, what an extraordinary result. Catherine has fallen asleep so we can’t record. Would you be up for it? Have a quick watch of the highlights and we can do it after I’ve done my final radio piece at 1.45am my time.
1.45am NY (6.45am UK)
I record my Radio 4 Today programme piece, talking to England Cricket legend David Gower who is, for some reason, presenting the bulletin for the first time in his life.
2am NY (7am UK)
David: Matt, are you there? I just spoke to David Gower.
I assume Matt, like Catherine, has passed out (it’s been a long 10 days and nights), so I record a 13-minute monologue about the drama of the last few hours.
2.15am NY (7.15am UK)
I can’t find the cable I need to edit and upload the recording. I ransack my bags, turn the room upside down and swear a lot.
2.30am NY (7.30am UK)
I admit defeat in cable-search, fire up my back-up recorder that doesn’t require the cable, and re-record the monologue.
2.45am NY (7.45am UK)
Catherine: I’m so sorry David. I fell asleep at 3-0 final set with the tv blaring and laptop open on my bed. I’ve just woken up.
David: Don’t worry. All fine. Go back to sleep.
Catherine goes back to sleep.
3am NY (8am UK)
I finish the edit and upload the podcast.
3.10am NY (8.10am UK)
Matt: Sorry David. I was working on notes for Catherine and my phone died, so I’ve only just seen your messages. I see you’ve uploaded the podcast. Was everything ok?
David: Yes, no probs, all fine. It’s been some night.
I relate the drama of the evening, including the cable debacle, and then go to bed.
Matt: I don’t know if I should tell you this at 3.20am, but the end of the podcast is missing. It finishes very abruptly.
For some reason, the last 4 minutes had failed to upload.
David: I’ll sort it.
I fire up the laptop and re-upload the podcast in bed.
David: Ok, it’s up.
I put the laptop back in my bag.
In doing so, my hand brushes against something long and thin. It’s just the missing ********* cable!
7.45am NY (12.45pm UK)
My alarm goes off. Catherine is already in ‘hair and makeup’. Matt has prepared the newsletter, stats and facts for the day. A long WhatsApp debrief about Federer’s loss takes place.
Matt asks for newsletter predictions. An argument ensues about what is and isn’t allowed as a prediction...
* Crowdfunding for 2020 via KickStarter will begin at the start of December. One of our goals will be to bring Matt with us to the US Open for the first time. If you would like to support The Tennis Podcast to keep going and growing, you can sign up to a receive a single e-mail at the start of December when our crowdfunding campaign goes live.