Behind The ScenesTennis

Wimbledon musical analyst chairs comes with the territory for commentators Fowler and Tirico

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LONDON — In the fall, host Chris Fowler sits alongside his College GameDay partners Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso every Saturday — as he has for 17 and 23 years, respectively — and now Desmond Howard has been a regular on the set since 2005. Each week in the Monday Night Football booth, play-by-play veteran Mike Tirico teams with Jon Gruden for cable’s most-watched series. On the NBA, it’s Tirico and analyst Hubie Brown on TV and then on ESPN Radio for the playoffs. At golf’s U.S. Open and the upcoming Open Championship in Scotland, Tirico is based at the 18th hole with analyst Paul Azinger.

With such familiarity comes comfort. A knowledge and trust of what to expect, and what is expected. You know each other’s habits, thoughts and foibles. Sort of like marriage.

Then there’s Grand Slam events — such as Wimbledon currently – where their match-to-match assignments are more like speed dating. Get used to one partner and the next is suddenly in the accompanying chair.

A calm moment before their busy day begins for Chris Fowler (L) and Mike Tirico. (Dave Nagle/ESPN)
A calm moment before their busy day begins for Chris Fowler (L) and Mike Tirico. (Dave Nagle/ESPN)

In the morning it’s Fowler with Darren Cahill while Tirico pairs with Chrissie Evert. Then Fowler moves to the studio with Pam Shriver, Brad Gilbert and LZ Granderson while Tirico shares a booth with Mary Joe Fernandez. To finish the day it’s Fowler back in the Centre Court bunker with Patrick McEnroe while Tirico is on the set with Cliff Drysdale and John McEnroe.

No, it’s not quite necessary for analysts to wear a “Hi, my name is ____” name tag, but it’s also a seldom noticed challenge for the play-by-play commentator to make the subtle adjustments necessary from assignment to assignment based on their partner.

In the video above, Fowler and Tirico explain the unique nature of their role on the ESPN tennis team compared to their more “stable” assignments in other sports.

Video produced by Dave Nagle and Tonya Malinowski.

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