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Are They All Tired of Tennis?

Everybody’s tired of tennis.

Jim Courier doesn’t feel like playing.

Monica Seles vanished.

Jennifer Capriati found other hobbies.

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Martina Navratilova called it quits.

Goran Ivanisevic asks himself why he bothers.

Andre Agassi thinks it’s too noisy.

Mary Pierce skipped Wimbledon.

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Pete Sampras has hardly played lately.

Boris Becker got stressed out.

Everybody’s tired of tennis, and I don’t mean the fans. I mean the players.

Tennis is a sport without a pulse. It is a blip on a monitor that is becoming a straight line. World Team Tennis draws crowds you could fit inside a mobile home. Davis Cup tennis is the tournament that never ends, going round and round like a hamster on a wheel. Grand Slam tennis is a four-tournament event that includes the Australian Open, a tournament no living human can tell you who won.

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Tennis is a great, great, great sport that is dying on the vine. The personalities of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Billie Jean King and Navratilova are gone, love ‘em or hate ‘em. Pam Shriver is on the bell lap and Chris Evert spends most of her time walking funny down the highway with Kathy Smith. The hottest topic in tennis is whether McEnroe will insult Mary Carillo. The second hottest topic is: “Who’s Mary Carillo?”

Everybody’s tired of tennis.

The only way women players make magazine covers is to have a scandal. Seles gets stabbed, Capriati gets busted, Pierce gets away from an abusive parent. Tracy Austin, bless her, returned to active duty, half the player she used to be. Gabriela Sabatini never went away, but is half the player she used to be. One of the finalists at Wimbledon this summer was Navratilova, who was so thrilled about her game that when the U.S. Open rolled around, she withdrew.

Tennis is in disarray. People try to get a fix on who’s hot and who’s not, but soon as they do, that player disappears again. Becker was the hottest thing around. His first day at the Open, he played like Boris Yeltsin. He lost to the immortal Richey Reneberg. I will have to look this up to make sure, but it is entirely possible that Becker is the first tennis player in history to lose to Richey Reneberg.

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Everybody’s tired of tennis.

Oh, sure, the first round of the U.S. Open did almost outdraw the Disneyland Pigskin Classic. But remember, I’m not talking about the fans. I’m talking about the players. Their desire is gone. The best ones aren’t hungry anymore. I’m not even sure they’re thirsty. And about 99% of the players are in emergency need of a charisma transplant.

Compared to some of these guys, Ivan Lendl is Robin Williams. The only male on the tour who could even remotely be described as charismatic is Agassi, and much of that will be gone on the morning he gets a haircut. Although some do not, I personally appreciate Agassi because any guy who keeps company with both Barbra Streisand and Brooke Shields in one lifetime is a guy who must go through more lifestyle changes than Forrest Gump.

Still, I couldn’t believe it the other day when image-is-everything Andre complained that the rock music was too loud during changeovers at the tennis matches. Yo, Andre, what do you want them to play--Zamfir? “Close to You” by the Carpenters? “Puff the Magic Dragon?” They tried playing soft music in New York City once. Six people were killed in a Muzak-related riot.

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So what’s wrong with tennis players today?

Why is everybody uptight or out of sight? Courier left the tour because he didn’t care for the way he was playing? (Maybe if he took off that cap, he could see the ball better). Sampras withdrew from tournaments in Washington, Toronto, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Why? Because he got a sore ankle from a new pair of shoes. (Who sold them to him, Al Bundy?)

Then there is Ivanisevic, who doesn’t have all his strings on his racket, if you get my drift. After losing his Open opener to Unknown Player No. 68, he said, “I don’t know what I do here . . . sometimes I ask myself why I am coming here.” (And when the going gets tough, Goran gets going! Home.)

“Maybe a brain injury.” That was the only explanation Ivanisevic could think of for his defeat. All I can say is, there’s a lot of that going around. They injure brains in tennis today. Used to be elbows.

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Everybody’s tired of tennis?

No, not everybody. Many of us can’t wait to see how the U.S. Open turns out. We want to see if Pete will repeat so he can three-peat. We want to see if Andre shaves his chest or comes out furry. We want to see if the winner of the women’s competition is Steffi Graf or that one from Spain who looks like Peppermint Patty. A lot of us still enjoy tennis.

Wish more players did.


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