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Serena’s Swan Song Is ESPN’s Most-Watched Tennis Telecast on Record

Serena Williams
(Image credit: ESPN)

BRISTOL, Conn.—ESPN is reporting that its U.S. Open coverage of what may have been the last pro tennis match in the remarkable career of Serena Williams was also the most-watched tennis telecast in ESPN’s 43-year history.  

An average of 4.6 million viewers (P2+) tuned in for the telecast of the the U.S. Open from Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York as Williams lost to Ajla Tomljanovich of Australia 7-5, 6-7, 6-1. 

The previous record of 3.9 million was for the 2012 Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Championship, when Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray. 

The Primetime telecast on ESPN on Friday Sept. 2 was also the most viewed telecast of the day for broadcast and cable networks in total viewers and all key male and person demos.  Serena’s match averaged 4.8 million viewers from 7:15 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. ET and peaked with 6.9 million viewers in the 10:15 p.m. quarter-hour.

Through the first five days of the U.S. Open, an average of 1.1. million viewers tuned in to ESPN networks, up +101% versus 2021. These are the most-viewed first five days of the U.S. Open on record on ESPN networks, ESPN reported. 

On ESPN+, U.S. Open coverage has to date delivered 622,000 unique viewers and 58.6 million minutes, up +65% and +72% versus 2021 through Day 5.

ESPN also reported that:  

  • On day four, ESPN2’s primetime coverage of the Williams sisters’ doubles match was the third most-viewed Third Round telecast ever on ESPN networks. The match averaged 2.2 million viewers
  • On day three, Williams’ second-round victory over Anett Kontaveit averaged 3.6 million viewers and peaked with five million. The entire prime-time telecast averaged 2.3 million, up 289% from last year and is No. 10 on the list of ESPN’s most-watched U.S. Open telecasts of all time.
  • That night, ESPN led all networks – broadcast or cable – in delivering both men and adults in the demo groups 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54. The network placed second for households and P2+.
  • That day’s entire 12.5 hours of matches averaged 1.4 million people, the largest for any ESPN U.S. Open early round (Rounds 1-3) telecast.
  • On opening day, Monday, Aug. 29, was ESPN’s most-watched opening-day and opening day prime-time U.S. Open telecast ever. The evening doubleheader averaged 7 million, up 279% from 2021 and 40% higher than the previous high in 2019.  The first match in that window, Williams defeating Danka Kovinic in the first round, averaged 2.7 million fans.
  • The audience that day for the entire 12 hours of coverage was ESPN’s largest for a U.S. Open opening day, an average of 843,000 viewers.

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.