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With cameras everywhere, sometimes it gets a bit embarrassing
[MELBOURNE] After losing a close third-round match to Sloane Stephens at this year's Australian Open, Petra Martic kept her emotions in check as she walked off the court of Margaret Court Arena. But once she was out of sight of the crowd, in the tunnel connecting the arena to the locker room, she could no longer hide her distress. She stepped into a corner, sunk down against a cinder-block wall and broke down in heaving sobs as she covered her face with a towel.
But she was not hidden at all. She was captured by one of the numerous cameras positioned throughout the corridors of the Australian Open.
"It's just heartbreaking to watch," ESPN's Chris McKendry said on the broadcast after the camera zoomed in for a tighter view of Martic's misery.
The Australian Open, the most remote Grand Slam event, is offering voyeurism without the voyage in a way no other tournament does. Players and their entourages are often unaware how many of their movements are monitored and magnified by cameras that follow them as long and as closely as possible.
The tournament installed a few fixed cameras three years ago and now curates a feed from many remotely operated cameras that monitor the recently renovated players' areas at Melbourne Park. The footage appears in segments of television broadcasts and can also be seen online in a stand-alone stream.
"We live in Big Brother society," top-ranked Novak Djokovic said of the cameras. "I guess you just have to accept it."
And so the tournament that branded itself the Happy Slam has become the Orwellian Open.
Most of the widely broadcast moments are not as poignant as Martic's. Look, there's Roger Federer fist-bumping a passing Rafael Nadal. Over here, Gaël Monfils is doing an impression of Frances Tiafoe's postmatch celebrations — for Tiafoe.
Craig Tiley, the tournament director, would not say how many cameras were used, but he called them "a rich source of content" that would complement match coverage and reveal a more complete picture of the sport and its culture.
Tiley said that the mounted cameras were intended to create a single source of video for rights-holding broadcasters, rather than having the hallways clogged with various camera operators and their equipment.
Tiley said that there were "strict protocols about what could be shown, but that players were not all explicitly warned about the cameras or told to sign waivers agreeing to be shown at any time. The high-definition cameras are in areas otherwise off-limits to the public and, this year for the first time, to accredited news media.
"The cameras are round and black and hang down from the ceiling," Tiley said. "They are very easy to see, and we have had dozens and dozens of players and coaches playing up to them."
There are areas the cameras do not show, including the players' restaurant and gym.
"They're not in the locker room, not that I know of," Maria Sharapova said, smiling. "Safe there."
But many players and coaches did not realize the scope of the surveillance. Serena Williams, who starred in her own HBO reality show, "Being Serena," and even gave birth on camera, said she initially did not notice how many cameras were tracking her at the tournament until she heard other players talking about them and began to look around.
"Then I was, like, ‘Oh, there is a camera there; oh, there is one there,'" Williams said. "They are everywhere, which I actually didn't realize. Good to know."
Naomi Osaka also underestimated the number of cameras watching her, thinking there was only one. "I guess I will be very conscious," she said.
Sure enough, before her next match, she could be seen looking for as many cameras as she could spot, laughing as she found one after another.
Simona Halep said she had not realized just how ubiquitous the cameras were until she saw images of herself that she did not know had been recorded.
"You guys are filming everything," Halep said. "I saw everything. I saw when I hugged my mom!"
But she did not consider the cameras a bad thing. "It's nice," Halep said. "People can see our reactions, off-court moments."
Even Martic gained something positive from being caught in a vulnerable moment. She posted on Instagram that she had received an outpouring of supportive messages from fans who had seen her devastation.
Mostly, the captured scenes are mundane: players saying hello as they pass one another in the halls, or entering and exiting the parking lot, or standing around and watching the television monitors, or stretching before matches.
Like most reality shows, the Open video stream has the tantalizing prospect of romance. The cameras seemed to have a particular interest in Monfils and Elina Svitolina, who recently started dating.
Occasionally, a small moment will become viral, such as when Federer tried to enter the locker room without his credential and was stopped by a security guard.
"There is the incredible camaraderie among players and coaches and the tennis community," Tiley said. "It is a community and an environment that we try to capture respectably and appropriately."
Players were caught off guard when the cameras first appeared in 2016. At the time, they had microphones that picked up conversations and showed the lounge area of the locker room.
The cameras no longer record sound and are now mostly in areas that players pass through rather than where they sit and congregate for long periods.
Patrick Mouratoglou, who is Williams' coach and an analyst for ESPN and Eurosport, said there should be more cameras to make new audiences invested in the players as people.
"I think we have to really worry about seducing the young generations with our sport," Mouratoglou said. "Our sport is very, very conservative — which is good because we respect the history of the game, that's great — but also we have to live in our times."
Indeed, the player most engaged in modern media seems to enjoy the continual cameras more than anyone else. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who spends much of his time off the court filming himself and the world around him for his YouTube channel, has been fascinated by the cameras he has spotted around the tournament.
As he waited to face Rafael Nadal in the semifinals in Melbourne on Thursday, Tsitsipas paced back and forth and stared at a camera, watching it move with him.
For superstars like Federer, who has photographs taken of him with and without his permission whenever he is in public, the cameras at the Australian Open were simply an extension of a creeping loss of privacy.
"It's different times nowadays," Federer said. "Sometimes good, sometimes bad. It's not like we never have anybody taking pictures or videos of us. Now it's just like everywhere all the time. It's hard to find the corner where you can actually sort of relax a bit."
One fish-eye-view camera at Rod Laver Arena, perched inside the players' box, has been particularly irksome to coaches and supporters. During Lucas Pouille's quarterfinal match on Wednesday, his fiancee, Clemence Bertrand, tried covering it with a bag of Peanut M & M's; his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, obscured it with a sweatshirt.
Sascha Bajin, Osaka's coach, said that he was self-conscious about the cameras in his face during matches, and that he was trying to stay away from the ones in the corridors.
"If they're hidden too much," he said, "then I feel like they're just kind of trying to catch you on something, you know?"