- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Last Friday evening, I fell asleep while watching Roger Federer battle Serbian Janko Tipsarevic in an Australian Open thriller that ended at about 5:15 a.m. EST. When I woke up later that morning, people were still playing tennis in Melbourne, even though it was the middle of the night down there.

It was one of the weirdest days in tennis history and certainly one of the most compelling, as play began around 11 a.m. local time and didn’t stop until the sun began rising the next morning.

And it helped ESPN2 set a record for the longest live telecast in sports history.

It all began with Saturday’s day session in Melbourne, when Anna Chakvetadze and Maria Kirilenko played three long sets, followed by Marin Cilic’s four-set win over 2007 finalist Fernando Gonzales.

Federer was then expected to make quick work of the 49th-ranked Tipsarevic, but instead Tipsarevic made it a four-hour epic that ended with Federer winning the fifth set 10-8.

By then, it was the middle of the evening in Melbourne and 5:30 a.m. here on the East Coast, (Melbourne is 16 hours ahead of the District), and the tournament’s night session was two hours behind schedule.

Tournament officials then pleaded with Venus Williams and Sania Mirza to move their match to a side court, but they refused. The result: Aussie fave Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus began play at 11:45 p.m. Melbourne time. More than four hours later, Hewitt prevailed in another five-set marathon.

“The day just kept extending, and extending and extending, and we were all like ‘Good Lord’” said Jamie Reynolds, a vice president of production for ESPN. “It really plays with your head a little bit. But it was terrific, terrific theater.”

ESPN2 began its live coverage Friday just before 10 p.m. and went nonstop until after 12:30 p.m. the next day, showing 14 hours and 43 minutes of consecutive live tennis. The network followed the live broadcast with an additional five hours of taped matches, bringing the total amount of tennis to more than 19 straight hours.

Meanwhile, ESPN360, the network’s broadband Internet service, showed as many as seven matches at once.

Most fans in America probably missed the Federer-Tipsarevic epic. But to ESPN2’s benefit, the late hour of the Hewitt-Baghdatis match allowed fans in America to watch it live Saturday morning.

Of course, if you are disoriented trying to follow the upside-down world of the Australian Open, consider the plight of ESPN’s Reynolds, who spoke to The Washington Times from Los Angeles International Airport after a trans-Pacific flight from Melbourne.

His next stop was Aspen, Colorado, where he will help produce ESPN’s coverage of the Winter X Games.

“It was 100 degrees in Melbourne,” Reynolds said. “I’ll be arriving in Aspen in shorts, a T-shirt and tennis sneakers.”

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Last weekend’s NFL conference championship games were the most-watched in 13 seasons.

The Giants-Packers NFC Championship game drew 53.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched non-Super Bowl program since the series finale of “Seinfeld” in 1998, which drew 76.3 million viewers.

The AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Chargers drew 44.8 million viewers, a 3 percent increase over last season’s AFC championship game.



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