Image: BBC/Mindhouse

Gods of Tennis review: BBC serve up pleasant if not revolutionary retrospective

As temperatures hit the mid-to-high twenties and the French Open ends in Paris, it can only mean one thing. The British tennis season is about to kick into swing. And the BBC have duly served up a thirst-quenching apértif: Gods of Tennis, a three-part documentary looking back on the sport’s 1970s and 80s golden age.

The programme follows the BBC’s Gods of Snooker series, broadcast back in 2021, which looked at that sport’s 1980s heyday. Also produced by Louis Theroux’s company Mindhouse, this installation follows a similar theme. Gods of Tennis is however probably less of a social history of 1980s Britain than its snooker predecessor sought to be, taking a more global and holistic look at the time. And it is this slight lack of bite that is the documentary’s only real drawback. The series zig-zags between players and themes a little more readily than the previous series does, albeit with each episode focusing on only two players.

Much of the archive footage felt fresh and interesting, even for a harder to please tennis fan like me

The first episode concentrates on trailblazers Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe, who became vocal leaders on issues of social justice in a time when far fewer sportspeople went there. The second then takes a look at the Bjorn Borg – John McEnroe rivalry, before the third takes on Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. What the series slightly lacks in purpose, it makes up for in originality. Much of the archive footage felt fresh and interesting, even for a harder to please tennis fan like me.

And there are a range of fascinating insights from the ensemble cast of commentators, including all of the players (barring Ashe, who died in 1993) featured. Even lifelong fan Miriam Margolyes makes an appearance. However, if you are expecting any F-bombs from the occasionally loose-lipped actress you will be disappointed.

Overall, this series will perhaps leave you feeling as warm and yummy as a bowl of strawberries and cream, even if it doesn’t quite have the zest or kick of a glass of Pimm’s. The Beeb have aced it again.


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