ESPN shift in Australian Open coverage challenging for fans

Tennis fans used to staying up through the night to watch the Australian Open have had to change their viewing habits and are having trouble finding some of the matches they want to see.

ESPN has dramatically reduced the amount of coverage on ESPN2 during the first week of the first Grand Slam event of the year, leaving the overnight hours exclusively on its ESPN+ streaming service.

ESPN+ is supposed to have all the matches available live, but it has experienced technical problems over the first couple of days. Fans were particularly upset — and said so on social media — that Wednesday's second-round match between Americans Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe could not be viewed on any platform. There was a graphic saying it was on ESPN+ but it wasn't there.

ESPN communications director Dave Nagle said “a combination of factors” led to certain matches being unavailable on ESPN+ on Wednesday night.

“Fritz vs. Tiafoe should have been covered live in full on one of our platforms. We have addressed the issue and our plan is to ensure all matches are available live going forward,” Nagle said. "The combination of ESPN+ and our networks, including ESPN3, increases our ability to deliver comprehensive coverage of tennis majors and bring more tennis to fans.”

ESPN2 has coverage through Sunday’s Round of 16 matches from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. EST before offering longer coverage windows beginning with the quarterfinals. In past years, ESPN2 would have up to 10 hours of daily coverage the first week from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. EST.

ESPN+ can carry action from almost every court and matches are available when completed. But ESPN+ is also a premium streaming service, meaning fans have to pay more on top of what they are dishing out for cable already.

Sports Illustrated executive editor and Tennis Channel commentator Jon Wertheim captured the mood among many when he tweeted Wednesday night: “If you were authoring the handbook “how to kill a sport”.... there are way too many other entertainment options available to play hide-and-seek like this. stateside for @AustralianOpen for one of the few times over the last 20 years, I have new appreciation for fans’ frustration.”

During the second week of the tournament, ESPN+ will have at least two quarterfinal matches exclusively on Jan. 24 and 25.

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