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Enberg finds perfect match

ON SPORTS MEDIA

Dick Enberg pauses at the thought.

Is it possible that this low-maintenance, high-integrity broadcaster who got his start doing UCLA basketball, who has carried us through countless football games where at the end you think, “Wow, that was easy listening and how did he know that blocker was going to be in that spot?” who has done NCAA basketball games, Rose Bowl games, baseball games, Breeders’ Cups and eight Super Bowls, will be most remembered for his tennis work?

“You know,” Enberg said this week, “I was at a birthday party last weekend and more people came up to me and asked if I was going to be doing the Australian Open than if I was doing an NFL conference championship game. Twenty-five years ago I would have imagined my legacy would be football or maybe basketball. Now? It could be tennis.”

Oh my, as Enberg would say.

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On Sunday, ESPN2 begins 100 hours of Australian Open tennis coverage. Since ESPN is adding the U.S. Open to its schedule this year, it is the first U.S. network to televise all four major tournaments -- the French Open and Wimbledon included -- in the same year.

But there is something special about the Australian Open. It is relaxed. It has a perfect blend of studio characters.

Darren Cahill, a player, former coach of Andre Agassi and a “G’day, mate” Aussie himself, offers an easy touch of analysis to men’s matches. U.S. Davis Cup Coach Patrick McEnroe is blunt, enthusiastic and shares inner-circle tidbits -- mostly about the American players. Cliff Drysdale adds his understated wit as well as his vast strategic tennis know-how.

Elegantly quirky Mary Carillo and experienced Pam Shriver add heft to the women’s analysis. Chris Fowler, as studio host, is deft in handing matches off between the crews.

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But the star is Enberg. He is in love with the sport.

“I couldn’t imagine not doing it,” he said this week before taking off for Melbourne.

“It’s a happy summer scene,” Enberg said. “It’s a festival, there never seems to be as much pressure as at other Slams. Players have had time off, they’re refreshed, everyone’s more accessible.”

Enberg joined the ESPN tennis team in mid-2004. The 2005 Australian Open was his first, but he was no tennis rookie -- his first tournament was Wimbledon in 1979.

“It happened by accident,” Enberg said. “I liked tennis but never considered it in broadcast terms.

“But in 1979, Don Ohlmeyer asked me to join Bud Collins and Donald Dell. I asked what they would do with three people and Don said, ‘You’ll be like the host, the emcee.’ Eventually I moved over a seat to do co-play-by-play with Bud, then they made Bud the analyst. I went over there with total trepidation.”

“I compare calling tennis to calling boxing. . . . You get the boxer, the knockout artist, the counterpuncher, you have to face each other across ends and even though you drop heads, you still have the chance to meet eye to eye every few minutes. . . .

“And tennis appeals to the creative side of me. I love that part about the sport. So much of tennis is the beauty of a well-executed shot, the movement of a player. Most recently Justine Henin and Roger Federer, it’s as if their feet don’t touch the court. At times it’s symphonic, like beautiful classical music is being played.”

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Shriver said working with Enberg is like taking a college course in preparation.

“He has the best notes. He studies everything,” Shriver said.

“You just want to take his cards, but he’ll know if you steal one of his nuggets. Plus he takes the best power naps.”

Blame it on jet lag.

Good Saturday watching

A worthy cross-conference college basketball matchup between Duke and Georgetown at 10:30 a.m. on Channel 2. UCLA fans can see Duke sophomore Kyle Singler, who may have come to the Bruins if Kevin Love hadn’t. At 12:45 p.m. on Channel 2, UCLA hosts one of its biggest obstacles to a fourth straight Pac-10 title: Arizona State.

Good Sunday watching

As mentioned above, Australian Open coverage begins on ESPN2, but let’s not kid ourselves. This is NFL day. At noon on Channel 11, the Eagles are at Arizona (who had that in the preseason office pool?) then Baltimore is at Pittsburgh at 3:30 p.m. on Channel 2. Yep, the game in sunny (and possibly hot) Phoenix will be on during the day. Enjoy Pittsburgh on a winter night.

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Bonus good Monday watching

On the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, stay indoors, kids, and see the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kevin Love take on the Clippers at Staples Center, 12:30 p.m. on Channel 5. Then at 4 p.m. on ESPN, Syracuse plays top-rated Pittsburgh, a good chance to check out Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon, the Ben Howland protege who once played for Notre Dame Sherman Oaks High. And at 7:30 p.m. on TNT, it’s Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James as the Lakers play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com


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