Sports fans are a superstitious bunch. We’re inclined to attribute the outcome of matches to cosmic beings, maligned spirits and ominous omens. Regardless of the multitude of evidence that discredits the existence of such forces. Sometimes it’s easier to blame a tough loss on bad luck, poor refereeing or superstition than it is to accept defeat. This year’s Australian Open has been no different, with the influence of the ‘Netflix Curse’ looming large over the tournament and casting a shadow of doubt over some of tennis’ top players.
The origins of the curse stem from Netflix’s new Break Point documentary series. The show gives viewers an insight into what happens behind the scenes on the ATP and WTA tours, as well as detailing how the sports best athletes prepare to perform on the biggest stage. The show features a plethora of both male and female stars, all of which have now withdrawn or crashed out of the Australian Open in the tournament’s first week.
The year’s first grand slam has a reputation for being predictable. With well rested athletes and the absence of nagging injuries to start the year, the highest ranked player’s usually come out on top at Melbourne Park. But 2023 has seen an unusually high prevalence of upsets, with a number of top seeds eliminated early. Fan’s were quick to make the connection between the tournaments early exits and players that were interviewed in Break Point. And the Netflix curse was born.
What began as a laughable coincidence has turned serious. The Netflix curse claimed the last of its ten victims on Sunday. With sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime dumped from the tournament in the fourth round at the hands of Jiri Lehecka. With all players interviewed for the show now eliminated, it appears the curse has completed its mission.
Break Point bills its focus group of athletes, which includes rising young guns and established stars alike, as the future of tennis. These players are presented as the next generation who will take the mantle from aging legends like Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. But not a single player from this supposed next generation has reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne.
Before the tournament had even begun, the curse claimed its first victims. With Nick Kyrgios, Paula Badosa and Ajla Tomljanovic withdrawing due to injuries. Italian 13th seed Matteo Berrettini was the next casualty, eliminated in a five-set thriller at the hands of Andy Murray in the first round. Casper Ruud and Ons Jabeur, the number two seeds in the men’s and women’s draw, were both upset by lower ranked opponents in the second round. Taylor Fritz and Thanasi Kokkinakis followed them shortly after. Maria Sakkari’s grand slam dreams were crushed one round later. And now the final domino, Auger-Aliassime, has fallen.
The executive producer of Break Point, James Gay-Rees, attributes the curse to simple bad luck, “You place a bunch of bets, and then hopefully some of those bets pay off,” he told Insider. “And obviously not all of them do.”
Following his third-round victory, Auger-Aliassime laughed off the power of the curse. “My girlfriend showed me today. I was aware that players were losing, but it didn’t cross my mind until she showed me the thing this morning. I thought it was funny.” He said. “I don’t think it’s connected. Maybe the players that lost, maybe they do feel like it’s connected somehow. I don’t think they do. But it’s funny how things work out sometimes.” Auger-Aliassime clearly invoked the wrath of the curse and was eliminated in his next match.
Ajla Tomljanovic was forced to withdraw from the open with a knee injury that will keep her out of action for months. She expressed annoyance with the constant citing of the curse in a tweet. “Can we stop with the Netflix curse lol… it’s just sports”, she said. Meanwhile, Netflix seems to be leaning into the trend. With the streaming giants UK Twitter account changing their bio to “The #NetflixCurse is not real.”
Can we stop with the Netflix curse lol…it’s just sports ????????♀️— Ajla Tomljanovic (@Ajlatom) January 20, 2023
The first five episodes of Break Point are already out on Netflix. The second half of the series is set to be released in June right before Wimbledon. Featuring a new cast of stars whose future performance will doubtlessly be heavily scrutinised for traces of the Netflix curse.