By David Blay*
Radio has always been a magical format. Through novels it used to transport its first listeners to a fictional world similar to that of the theatre, but free of charge and without needing to leave the house. At key events of the twentieth century, it arrived before anybody else and teleported those at the other end of the receiver directly to the live action. And, above all, in sports broadcasts before television filled the airwaves, it was the only way to follow your favourite team without going to your local stadium.
Football, however, like basketball, handball, athletics and indoor football, is naturally suited to watching with intense commentary in the background. Not so of tennis. If you closed your eyes up until not too long ago, the television commentary barely explained what was happening at any given time, let alone provide any information beyond each day’s big matches.
In this regard, the Mutua Madrid Open has always tried to set itself apart. Before podcasts became fashionable, it committed itself to implementing the SetBall.radio project and narrating what was happening at a great tournament from the inside. Now, five years later, sponsors who explain why it is worth their while to collaborate with the event, charity organisations that have increased their visibility in the Caja Mágica, fans who are living an experience of such magnitude for the first time and of course, elite male and female players have all left their mark on its history. All of this has drummed up increasing attention, with more than 40,000 people connecting throughout the 2017 edition.
But if one thing has changed in the world of covering tennis events, it is live matches. In enclosed booths that do not bother spectators, the clashes are commentated, for practically the first time, with the intensity of other sports. Something that has achieved three fundamental milestones: it has given a voice to players whose matches barely receive media coverage, it has produced exclusive content for those who cannot be there in person and it has made it one of the few tournaments that can be followed on all the possible platforms from anywhere in the world.
At work, it is unlikely that your boss will let you switch on the tele to watch Nadal. You’re undoubtedly not interested in buying a newspaper so that you can see what happened the day before. So why not try the official Mutua Madrid Open sites, where you have all the information minute-by-minute and you can sit in the Manolo Santana centre court through your smartphone, using the commentator’s voice to visualise what is taking place on the Madrid clay.
But there is a more important side to the story: tennis for the blind is gaining momentum. Despite their condition, a large number of blind people are fans of the sport and their best way to follow it is and will continue to be on the radio. So, those of us at SetBall would love to reach the whole world. But, above all, we feel proud to allow those who have always wanted to, to ‘see’ tennis.
*David Blay is a journalist and is responsible for managing SetBall.radio at the Mutua Madrid Open