One by one, they dropped their heads, smashed their rackets. One by one, they slung their bags over their shoulders in defeat, exiting the court in bitter disappointment at shock results. They are the victims of a sporting curse the likes of which no streaming service has seen before.
This is the phenomenon of Break Point, the Netflix documentary that follows the careers of 10 top tennis pros and is being blamed for the wipeout of each from the Australian Open, which kicked off last week.
While the chatter around the curse on social media has mostly been lighthearted rather than conspiratorial, it is remarkable that no player to feature in the documentary – most of whom were either favourites and/or grand slam-finalists – has made it to the second week.
Three of them didn’t even make it to the baseline, with home favourites Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanović and the Spaniard Paula Badosa pulling out with injuries beforehand.
Matteo Berrettini, who brought a little romcom to the show as the handsome then-boyfriend of Tomljanović and was filmed in Italy telling his family this was “his year”, fell in a five-set slog to a resurgent Andy Murray. Berrettini slammed the easiest of match points into the net, allowing himself a rueful smile afterwards.
Round two proved nothing short of a bloodbath for the rest. Ons Jabeur, the world’s second-best female player – she reached the US Open and Wimbledon finals last year and features heavily in the episode Great Expectations – crashed out in three sets, two of which she lost 6-1.
Casper Ruud, the No 3 men’s player and a two-time grand slam finalist (who was part of the funniest moment in the show), was upset by an up-and-comer. Taylor Fritz, the men’s US No 1 (and men’s world No 9) fell to a player ranked 98 places below him.
Murray – who is the star of a documentary on rival streamer Prime Video – proved a double assassin. After striking down Berrettini, he knocked out Thanasi Kokkinakis, the best friend and doubles partner of Kyrgios. Netflix’s access to the two tennis bad boys (known as the Special Ks) was one of Break Point’s biggest selling points. But in a five-set thriller against Murray – which ended after 4am and was the longest match of Murray’s career – Kokkinakis was helpless in the face of the curse.
Joining him on the cutting room floor was Maria Sakkari, the fist-pumping Greek women’s world No 6, with arms that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger envious, who fell to Lin Zhu, the world No 87.
And then there was one – as though Agatha Christie were a tennis correspondent. Félix Auger-Aliassime, Canada’s great hope, who is shown in the series pushing Rafa Nadal to the limit at Roland Garros. The men’s world No 7 was toppled by the No 71, Jiří Lehečka, who had never before won a grand slam match. Total wipeout – and it wasn’t even the quarter-finals.
As journalists and fans on social media noticed the show’s characters being picked off one by one, so did the players – and Netflix, which tweeted: “To clarify, this is purely a coincidence … ”
Tomljanović seemed less amused by the debate, tweeting: “Can we stop with the Netflix curse lol … it’s just sports.” Auger-Aliassime was able to laugh about the whole thing – at least while he was the last man standing. Explaining to a press conference that his girlfriend had shown him the memes, he said: “I thought it was funny. Maybe the players that lost … feel like it’s connected somehow. I don’t think they do. But, yeah, so funny how things work out sometimes.” No news yet on whether he thought it was funny after the curse came for him, too.
Meanwhile, there may be bad news for a different set of players – those who will feature in the second part of the show, due for release this year. Given the misfortunes of those who have gone before, perhaps Netflix should rebrand Break Point as a horror series …