MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

I follow and watch the Australian Open every year, even if it means staying up until 4 in the morning, for two reasons — I love tennis, and seeing how the Australian Open is played in late January in, um, Australia, watching people enjoy the sun and the heat helps take my mind from sitting in my kitchen watching television in the dark and the dead of winter.

As the great Jessica Tandy, playing a lifelong resident of Buffalo in the movie “Best Friends,” said to Burt Reynolds, “Winter kills.”

While I certainly enjoy football and basketball, I find baseball, tennis and golf — in that order — to be the most interesting games out there because none of the outcomes in these games is ever affected or determined by a clock.

(Although if anybody can screw that up, I’m sure it will be Rob Manfred.)

For instance, in football, Vince Lombardi said, “We feel the Green Bay Packers have never lost a game. We’ve just run out of time in some of them.”

In baseball, Earl Weaver said, “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the (bleeping) plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Tennis has the same wonderful timelessness that baseball and golf have. In tennis, the match is not over until every point is won – by two, no less. In baseball, the team that is ahead after 27 outs wins; and in golf, it’s the lowest score after 18 holes.

Again: No clock.

The splendor of tennis’ timelessness, though, can be tested sometimes by ESPN’s production of the Australian Open as well as the other three events of tennis’ Grand Slam series that the network has the rights to. After all, it is ESPN, which means there is no point in reporting the story when it’s so much more fun to create the story.

Still, I find ESPN to do a pretty good job covering tennis, led by Chris Fowler and John and Patrick McEnroe, Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez. James Blake also adds good analysis and insight once you can fight yourself through his steady sleep-inducing monotone.

Also, the great Chris Evert is always a welcome part of the coverage, and this year is offering her insights remotely from the United State as she has been fighting and recovering from cancer the past year; and, thankfully, she reports her recovery is going well.

As for Darren Cahill and Brad Gilbert, frankly, I can do without their contributions; but that’s just me.

In just the first few days of coverage, though, I have missed hearing International Tennis Hall of Famer Cliff Drysdale, who has been the voice of international tennis since ESPN went on the air in 1979, but who is not part of the coverage this year.

When Drysdale is on the air, he lets the points speak for themselves. An advocate for the sport on and off the court, you rarely know he is even in the booth, yet you find comfort by his presence on the broadcast.

How do you know somebody is talking too much during a televised tennis match? Turn on the closed captioning. If words not only continue to stream across your screen after serve, but all the way through rallies, somebody’s talking too much. That has never been Cliff Drysdale.

(And the only reason I know that little trick is my late, sainted mother used closed captioning on everything, which, believe me, is a challenge when you’re trying to watch basketball or tennis in particular.)

Fowler, whose appreciation for the game of tennis cannot be questioned, has come a long way in the past decade in no longer feeling compelled to empty all of his appreciation and the homework he has done in preparation into the broadcast of a single match.

But it is ESPN, and if ESPN is showing a live sporting event of interest, you take what comes, because for a sports fan, ESPN is like the air we breathe. Even if that air emits a foul and unpleasant odor, it is air, and we need to breathe it.

That said, their coverage has come a long way over the last handful of years and even when it does, on occasion, dip to its maddening level of showbiz over tennis coverage, it’s still more than enough to help some of us through some of the long, dark, cold nights and early mornings of winter.

Just ask Jessica Tandy, who would be delighted to tell you that pitchers and catchers report in 27 days.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT