INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Maria Sakkari and Taylor Fritz, stalked by a black-clad Netflix camera crew, were greeted by warm applause when they ascended to the outdoor stage on the grounds of Indian Wells. The stars of “Break Point” Episode 3 arrived just hours after Netflix announced there would be a second season.
Those ubiquitous workers are all over the grounds at the Tennis Garden, capturing behind-the-scenes moments for episodes that will be seen next year.
“We’re really excited,” Paul Martin, executive producer of Box to Box Films, told the crowd earlier. “Excited to get to play in this space for another year. Hopefully, it continues for 10 more seasons.”
In this season’s Indian Wells episode -- titled “California Dreaming” shot at the BNP Paribas Open a year ago -- we learned that Sakkari may well be the most caffeinated player on the Hologic WTA Tour (six espressos in a single day!) and, according to Ajla Tomljanovic, super-intense on court but a “teddy bear” off it.
Sakkari, who advanced to the final here before falling to Iga Swiatek, said the series seems to be reaching the casual tennis fan.
“I don’t think we’re like movie stars right now,” Sakkari said, drawing laughter. “It’s just our personalities being exposed -- in a good way. I’ve had people coming up to me and saying I watched you on ‘Break Point,’ but not playing tennis, which I think was very good for the show. I was happy because that whole thing really helps tennis.”
Fritz, whose dramatic drive to the title in his local tournament -- he beat Rafael Nadal in the final on a seriously compromised ankle -- was the episode’s dominant thread, agreed.
“It’s good to see that because those are people who aren’t tennis fans,” Fritz said. “In the U.S. especially, that’s what we need. So whenever there’s someone saying, `Oh, I saw you on Break Point,’ I see that as someone maybe potentially who might watch tennis as a fan. What it’s been doing for the sport is great. Hopefully that continues.”
The first five episodes of the series were released in advance of the Australian Open, and episodes 6-10, covering the second half of the 2022 season, will drop in June. The early returns were encouraging. “Break Point” reached the Top 10 in 28 countries, engaging an audience of more than 15 million, with Australia and the United Kingdom at the top of the list.
And while it didn’t reach the Top 10 in the United States, given its large population, it generated the largest number of new fans. The featured players experienced a significant bounce in their social media numbers.
“Tennis, being on tour, there’s a really great story to be told,” said Fritz, whose No.5 ranking is the highest for an American man since Andy Roddick in 2009. “Because what we do is pretty crazy and a lot of people don’t really know the behind-the-scenes, the traveling, the competing and everything that goes on. I’m glad the reception’s been great.”
Martin, who oversees the series with co-producer James Gay-Rees, revealed how the series came into being. Describing himself as a fan but not necessarily an aficionado, Martin had spent a year talking with Andre Agassi about making a film.
“Just the picture that Andre painted in the tennis bubble, the extremes of highs and lows was just kind of mesmerizing, really exciting,” Martin said. “When that project fell away, we always felt of there was a way to dive into tennis the way that Andre had talked about we would love the opportunity.”
It came when the “Drive to Survive” series captured a huge worldwide audience, particularly in America. When Netflix asked Box to Box what other sports might lend themselves to “reality” television, tennis was one of the first answers.
The tale of the injured Fritz’s title run, playing against the wishes of his father and coach, was the kind of narrative that Martin hopes for.
“People have a version of tennis where they see two players walk out on court and they think that they’re 100 percent fit, at the top of their game,” he said. “They don’t see the physical pain. They might have had an argument with their boyfriend or girlfriend before they walked out on court.
“They don’t see how much baggage these players sometimes take out to the court. That was one of the most extreme examples of it.”
Sakkari drew a nice hand when she told the crowd that Indian Wells is her favorite tournament of the year -- and not just because she reached the final a year ago. The public response to her star turn on Netflix has humbled her.
“I never thought that coming from a very small country I would get to the ranking level where I was last year,” she said. “Seeing myself on TV is nothing that I’m used to. It was kind of weird in a way, but also nice to see the different players in the episode.
“It’s the reward for the work I’ve done all these years.”