Ajlas Tomljanović in Breakpoint (Photo: Netflix)
Netflix’s Breakpoint returned on June 20 with another batch to end its first season, and with it comes renewed frustration from tennis fans who see a wealth of unrealized potential in a docu-series that chronicles the men’s and women’s tennis tournaments beyond just the headline names . I am one of those frustrated fans. Conceptually a series which Breakpoint is exactly what the sport needs at exactly the right time. Structurally, the show plays like yesterday’s news, inviting curious viewers into a set of stories that the sport itself has already blown past.
Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tours are filled with interesting stories, compelling personalities, petty feuds and competitive narratives that unfold over a season or longer. And yet it’s nearly impossible to get the mainstream sports media to cover tennis beyond its handful of legendary headliners and the occasional rising American talent.
That’s becoming more and more of a problem as that generation of legends finally loosens their grip on the sport’s upper echelons. Roger Federer has retired and Rafael Nadal has already announced that 2024 will be his last year on tour. Serena Williams’ blockbuster final at the 2022 US Open is reproduced in this week’s batch of Breakpoint episodes, which only further emphasizes the need for the next generation of tennis stars to become household names. Young players like Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek have risen to the top of the rankings, but tennis is a sport built on rivalry, and the more viewers know about the entire top tier of players, the more they can invest in what unfolds on the court.
BreakpointThe main success is that executive producers James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin and showrunner Kari Lia selected their list of subjects well. Episodes in Part 2 continue to focus on players like Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian player who is on her way up to #2 on the women’s tour in 2022, breaking barriers for Arab players as well as players from Africa, while adding spotlight episodes for Swiatek (en route to her victory at the 2022 US Open) and American hopeful Frances Tiafoe (who beat Nadal en route to a semi-final at the same Open).
The series also continues its infatuation with Australian enfant terrible Nick Kyrgios, whose run to the Wimbledon final last year encompassed everything that makes him such a compelling figure yet hard to fully tolerate: His electrifying ability on court; his openness about mental illness and past suicidal thoughts; his abuse of chair judges and linesmen; the barely veiled racist dog whistles from the press and occasional opponents, as depicted in Breakpoint of Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, who calls Kyrios a bully (true!) who takes an “uneducated” approach to the game (foul!). The show also touches on, but does not investigate, domestic abuse allegations leveled against Kyrgios by a former girlfriend that arose during Wimbledon, to which he later plead guilty.
Kyrgios naturally offers a wealth of material for a more typical sports documentary. But his historic inability to get to the top ranks of the men’s tour, much less stay there, makes him an excellent outlier for what Breakpoint otherwise trying to do, which is to get the audience invested in the next generation of tennis stars. It takes a bit of a gamble on the part of the producers when it comes to which players to play with, and that gamble doesn’t always pay off. Maria Sakkari, a top 10 player from Greece who is as physically gifted as anyone on the women’s tour, is coming off a 2021 season in which she reached two Grand Slam semifinals. But the 2022 season was a disappointing year for her, and more than one episode in the first half of Breakpoint that centered her frustration, there wasn’t much to say about her as the season progressed.
Several players who got spotlight episodes in Part 1 end up not paying attention to Part 2 at all for the simple fact that the back half of 2022 didn’t go their way. Rising American star and Indian Wells champion Taylor Fritz bombed out in the first round of the US Open. Italy’s Matteo Berrettini was unable to capitalize on his semi-final run at the Australian Open (as pictured in Part 1) due to injury. Spaniard Paula Badosa and Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime were both in Part 1 and both had early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open.
This is not atypical of the current state of tennis. The top 10s on both the men’s and women’s sides are volatile places to be. That’s not exactly a bad thing either. Disappointing results for the likes of Sakkari, Fritz, Badosa and Auger-Aliassime gave way to breakthrough tournaments for the likes of Cameron Norrie and Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon and Casper Ruud and Caroline Garcia at the US Open.
Breakpoint shouldn’t be confused because the producers weren’t able to predict every flourishing player when they set out to chronicle the 2022 season. They certainly made the right choice by following a player like Tiafoe on his run to the US Open semifinals. They also struck gold in Australian player Ajla Tomljanović, whose ranking (hovering in the 40s for most of 2022) belies her talent, which has been formidable enough to attract the attention of no less a tennis great than Chris Evert. Tomljanović was featured in Part 1, partly due to her off-court romantic relationship with Berrettini. But chance and opportunity make her perhaps the most compelling figure in Part 2, as she meets Serena Williams in the third round of the US Open and ultimately defeats her, ending the career of the greatest player in tennis history.
Serena Williams’ farewell tour was covered exhaustively in sports media, which is fitting. To Breakpoint covering the match from Tomljanović’s perspective gives us something we haven’t seen before. We see the way Tomljanović has to fight against the unprecedented atmosphere of the crowd, worshiping Serena and being as strong an opponent of Tomljanović as any crowd has ever been. The Australian is also internally conflicted, torn between her desire to win and her love and admiration for this tennis icon. It’s a fascinating perspective on a sporting moment we’d seen from every other angle.
That match is also a huge part of the problem, structurally, with Breakpoint. The centerpiece of this back half of the season covers a match that took place 10 months ago. The world of tennis has continued to roll on, and the players there Breakpoint has got us invested in hasn’t been a part of it. A knee injury has kept Tomljanović off the field for the majority of 2023. Anett Kontaveit, the former world #2 who we meet briefly on the show when she loses to Williams in the second round, announced her untimely retirement from the sport earlier this week.
Like the stars of professional tennis, so goes the sport. Tennis desperately needs to create new stars to move into its next era as a sport. Season 2023 of Breakpoint is already filming, with six months of tennis narrative in the can, growing stale by the minute. Breakpoint cannot help but be a frustrating experience because it lives in the past. The electric charge that could have accompanied Ons Jabeur’s breakthrough year, Frances Tiafoe’s magical US Open and Ajlas Tomljanović’s history with history has been left to vanish in a breeze of a 10-month delay. Narrow the window to only half and you get a more compelling TV experience. If episodes air even faster than that, Breakpoint could be a game-changer for this next generation of tennis stars.
Breakpoint Season 1 is streaming in its entirety on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Joe Reid is a senior writer on Primetime and co-host on This one had the Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The AV Club and more.