A Fresh Cut

A Fresh Cut

ESPN wants tennis to stop obsessing over its ex.

ESPN wants tennis to stop obsessing over its ex.

By AJ EcclesJune 27, 2024

The guard has changed. // ESPN

The guard has changed. // AP Images

“If you knew how much I looked at her pictures/You’d think we were best friends,” Olivia Rodrigo croons on “Obsessed,” a single from her recent album Guts that ESPN has chosen as the soundtrack to their 2024 Wimbledon ad. In its opening lines, “Obsessed” appears to be taking on toxic fandom—itself a topic of obsession in millennial and Gen Z pop culture—but the truth of the song quickly becomes clear.

“She’s been asleep on your side of the bed/And I love it,” is the whispered confession as Rodrigo unfurls the source of her toxicity. She’s obsessed with her lover’s ex, the scent of a ghost still present in a burgeoning situationship, driving the singer to distraction. It’s the perfect choice for ESPN’s Players Are Ready campaign, at once an admission of guilt and a call to action, challenging tennis and tennis fans to move on from echoes of the past.

Wimbledon is about remembering. Of every stop on the endless around-the-world-tour of the tennis calendar, it is London’s grassy crown jewel that most wants us to look to the past, to revel in tradition, to sip on nostalgia like an icy cup of Pimm’s. This is reflected in Wimbledon’s marketing materials—at their best the emotionally searing crescendo of In Pursuit of Greatness, and at their current worst the baffling written-by-committee slogan Always Like Never Before.

Either way, Wimbledon brands itself as past-become-present. An effective message for an aging audience, perhaps not for growing a base of Challengers-inspired newcomers.

Players Are Ready defies this tradition, exorcising tennis’ ghosts and forefronting only the faces of the present and the future: Gauff, Alcaraz, Sabalenka, Tiafoe, Osaka, Sinner. Names that are quickly growing in the public consciousness, a new, diverse, exciting group of stars who are moving the sport forward on and off the court in their own right.

To continue doing so, these young stars need the support of broadcasters, media, sponsors, and tournaments alike. Stardom is a bargain struck by multiple parties: You win, we report, they advertise.

It’s striking, after a decade of domination, to see a broadcaster advertising a major without Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafa Nadal, or Novak Djokovic. All four are present in Wimbledon’s own ad for 2024, even though the former two are retired, the latter two focused on Olympic preparation in varying states of disrepair. (Djokovic is, it seems for now, playing the tournament.)

Wimbledon isn’t wrong to honor tradition—sport is so much about warrior pretenders yearning to join the pantheon—but it’s time to admit that SW19’s service to the past has wandered into unhealthy obsession. Even with the most wonderful of exes, there comes a time to move on.

When a young champion lifts the trophy this year, one can only hope they don’t look out to the Wimbledon crowd wondering, in Rodrigo’s words, “Do you think about her?/No, I’m fine, it doesn’t matter, tell me…”


AJ Eccles is a writer from Brooklyn, NY.