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Review: ‘Break Point’ delivers improved finale with room to grow in Season 2
The Netflix series concludes its first season with promised “glow-up” but storytelling gaps persist as fans relive the second half of an otherwise high-octane 2022 season.
Published Jun 20, 2023
MY TENNIS LIFE: Tomljanovic did double duty at the 2022 US Open, documenting her run for Netflix and Tennis Channel.
Before the first batch of Break Point episodes even dropped on Netflix, castmate Ajla Tomljanovic was teasing Part II.
“You see more of my glow-up in the second five episodes, so I’m going to have to wait until July to see it,” she told me back in December. “But it’ll be worth the wait.”
The three-time major quarterfinalist is yet to hit a ball in 2023 after undergoing knee surgery at the start of the year, but got a slight reprieve from the streaming gods when it was announced that Break Point would debut the final five episodes of its debut season a month early—just in time for the Wimbledon Championships on June 21.
Like Tomljanovic, who indeed enjoyed a star turn in the second half of 2022 that culminated with her US Open victory over Serena Williams that sent the 23-time Grand Slam champion into retirement, Break Point basks in a glow-up of its own when it gives viewers a front-row seat to the infamous Wimbledon clash between rivals Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
With both players on the cast—Kyrgios returns from Part I along with Tomljanovic, Ons Jabeur and Taylor Fritz while Tsitsipas is part of the new cast that includes Frances Tiafoe, Aryna Sabalenka, and Iga Swiatek—fans get both sides of the highly-contentious third round that took over the tennis world last summer.
“He has brought that NBA basketball attitude to tennis,” sniffs Tsitsipas in a sound bite that has already gone viral. “I would describe it as an uneducated approach of playing tennis. But you know tennis is a gentleman’s sport, it’s all about respect. We are not playing basketball.”
Kyrgios nonetheless gets the final dunk on Tsitsipas, both on court and in confessional, continuing to open up about mental health struggles that ultimately sent him to a psych ward in 2019.
“I hated the kind of person I was,” admits the Aussie, whose demons rear up in real time when accusations of an assault on an ex-girlfriend emerge en route to his first major final.
This is Break Point at its best, maximizing the talent at its disposal to deliver an enhanced look at a consequential match or moment from the previous season. It is a storytelling tactic that is too often eschewed in favor of ostensibly less cluttered solo narratives—even when that episode’s star is preparing to play a castmate.
Though the series mercifully slows its pace, featuring Wimbledon and the US Open in four of its final five episodes, it persists in devoting each episode to only two stars in a way that can obscure the global issues that pervade a global tour—even when the series is at its best. The outstanding Wimbledon arc, for example, makes no mention of the All England Club’s ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes, nor does it acknowledge the Ukrainian invasion until its final episode.
The gaps in narrative are also evident in smaller ways. Take Iga Swiatek’s run to the 2022 US Open title: here the introverted world No. 1 faces the unenviable challenge of sharing the spotlight with King of Charisma Frances Tiafoe, Swiatek had narrative advantages that go unexplored despite boasting numerous rivals among the Break Point cast.
Semifinal and final opponents Aryna Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur surely have more to say about Iga than the one or two confessionals they’re allotted. But Sabalenka’s story is saved for the next episode and Jabeur, who continues to steal every scene she is in with her effortless charm and inspiring story, has already gotten two to herself. Time is instead spent showing a mildly uncomfortable haircut overseen by Swiatek’s sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz and match highlights that hardcore fans have already seen and casual fans may not understand.
I was ok with showing the down side of the sport and the realness of those lows, but I never thought I would have the kind of glowup I would end up having throughout the season. It all turned out better than I could have imagined. Ajla Tomljanovic
Rather than weave various storylines together—especially when they naturally intersect—Break Point silos players in such a way that it presents a decidedly unreal reality show, and we again return to the produceorial chicken-or-egg: are players not giving enough in these confessionals, or are they not being asked the right questions?
There are certainly narratives that can stand on their own. Aryna Sabalenka’s titanic 2022 season is truly a hero’s journey that begins with the lows of her Australian summer serving woes and her reaction to the war in Ukraine.
“You start to feel really guilty because your country is a part of this,” explains hitting partner-turned-coach Anton Dubrov. “But also, you have to be really careful because in our country we cannot say a word about what’s going on. If you just say the word ‘war,’ it’s like, ‘Ok, you’ll die in jail.’”
Sabalenka’s full-throated condemnation of the war, plus her full-circle victory in Melbourne the following season both miss the effectively arbitrary November 2022 cut-off, and so fans will presumably have to wait another six months to see that story pay off in Season 2.
The aforementioned charismatic Tiafoe is another breakout star, one whose LeBron James-endorsed US Open semifinal run carries even more electricity on the heels of his perfectly-timed entry into the Top 10.
“There was just so much love everywhere,” sighs a smiling Tiafoe, still vibrating from his breakthrough in confessional.
Part II of Break Point will likely get more love, as well, and give fans reason to hope for an even bigger glow up for its next season.