29 April 2020

Behind the scenes - tennis documentaries to catch during lockdown

A couple of weeks, ago we gave you our suggestions for tennis movies to catch during lockdown. Now we turn our attention to documentaries. Here's the perfect set of six.

There is a venerable tradition of brilliant sports documentaries from When We Were Kings, the story of Ali's Rumble in the Jungle, to the Formula One elegy, Senna. So how does tennis fare in the pantheon of greats?



Andy Murray: Resurfacing, 2019

ResurfacingThis is an insider's account of Andy Murray's attempt to recover from hip surgery and return to the Tour, directed by his soon-to-be sister-in-law, Olivia Cappuccini. The access she was allowed makes this a near-unique account of what it is like for a top-level athlete to face a career-threatening injury. In the end though, to Andy's credit, it is not the medical interventions but the chance to get to know the man behind the player, and appreciate his humour and tenacity, that makes Resurfacing so memorable. Unmissable. 
Available on Amazon Prime



John MCEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, 2019

Inspired by the unearthing of documentary footage taken at Roland Garros in 1984, when John McEnroe was at the peak of his powers, this is a celebration of a very different sort of tennis perfection than that offered by, say, Roger Federer. Perhaps the director, Julien Faraut, is a little too keen to intellectualise about the nature of tennis brilliance, but if you didn't see McEnroe in action at the time, there is no better introduction to what made him so special. Was he tennis's "Rebel without a Cause" who changed the game forever or simply annoyingly badly behaved? You decide.
Available on Youtube and Google Play



Strokes of Genius, 2018

Strokes of GeniusNadal v Federer, Wimbledon 2008. And that says it all. Tell the story even half-way efficiently and you will have most tennis fans eating out of your hands, and this Tennis Channel documentary (shown on the BBC a couple of years ago) based on L. Jon Wertheim's book of the same name, does it very well indeed. Maybe you think you know what happened and have long-since made up your mind about the qualities of the individual players, but by puting the match-up into the context of other great tennis rivalries, Strokes of Genius makes a pretty convincing case for elevating this encounter to never-to-be-equalled status.
Available on itunes



Unmatched, 2010

UnmatchedChris Evert and Martina Navratilova met in 60 finals in all, and in those simpler, often literally black and white days (at least on TV), tricked us into thinking this was a chalk-and-cheese-rivalry matched for its iciness only by the Cold War between Eastern Europe and the USA itself. So the twist revealed in this slick documentary is that not only were the two much more similar than we realised, but they were tennis buddies too. The tennis is from another era and, thanks in no small part to Martina Navratilova, has moved on in terms of athleticism and intensity. But it's a great account of a moment when a sport reaches out well beyond its natural fan base. 
Available on ESPN 



ALTHEA, 2015
One of the all-time tennis greats, with a style she described as "aggressive, dynamic - and mean", Althea Gibson was a black girl who grew up in Harlem at a time when success in tennis was typically via white-only clubs and privilege. Made in 2015, 12 years after she died, this documentary describes how she overcame every racial obstacle imaginable to become, in 1956, the first African American to win a Grand Slam, some forty years before the Williams sisters took the tennis world by storm. Success did not bring riches. She peaked in the late 1950s, before sport made athletes millionaires, and despite being a talented singer, saxophonist and golfer, her post-tennis career was dogged by disappointments, divorce and financial hardship. But what she did achieve is well worth the re-telling.
Available on Vimeo  



Love MEANS ZERO, 2017

Love Means ZeroEver wondered how uber-coach Nick Bollettieri managed to produce so many stars from his tennis factory (Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles, to mention just a few)? Well it wasn't by being nice. This is mainly talking heads, but director Jason Kohn has good access to the players and while it was never going to be that hard, allows Bollettieri to damn himself. 
Available via Microsoft