Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tennis' Dirty Little Secret


There's something rotten going on in the sport of tennis, and nobody seems to want to talk about it. Historically, tennis has presented itself as a dignified game. It's a sport of ladies and gentlemen. Players are called Mr. or Mrs./Miss/Ms. So-and-So. They can be penalized for unsavory behavior. So the foundations of the game itself are rattled whenever there is any kind of scandal in the sport. But that's no reason for all of us to stick our heads in the sand -- or in the reddish clay -- when there is something undeniably going on that warrants exposure. I'm not talking about the current alleged gambling scandal involving some players. I'm talking about something much more serious, something that involves all four of the Grand Slam tournaments. I'm talking about the rain.

Even a casual fan of tennis has to notice that it almost always rains during Wimbledon, as well as the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens. Matches are interrupted, and sometimes entire days are rained out. I had wondered how this rainy weather could so often coincide with the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. And then I went to the French Open at Roland Garros and found out.

As much as the officials and the commentators complain about the rain delays, they are intentional. What am I implying, that those who stage these tournaments want it to rain? Yes, and more than that. I believe that those in charge have found a way to actually make it rain during the championships.

And why, if this were possible would they manipulate the weather so that the games are interrupted by precipitation? They do it so the fans will seek shelter. And where do they seek shelter? In the gift shops.

That's exactly what my wife and I did to get out of the rain when we were at Roland Garros. And we weren't alone. The store was packed, and the cashier lines were long. People were buying all kinds of things with the Roland Garros logo. They were spending their valuable Euros to buy clothes that they would probably wear once, if that. They were purchasing presents for people who would smile and then put the gifts on that high shelf that never gets dusted.

The store was selling things faster than the dollar was dropping. Naturally, they had caps and T-shirts. But they also had beach towels, "players towels," shoes, watches, key rings, head and wrist bands, regular sized tennis balls, huge tennis balls, socks, sweatshirts, and "overgrips," whatever they are. People bought skirts, shorts, and skorts. They also bought tops, pants, and "vibration dampeners" (which apparently are not sex toys).

I'm not a meteorologist. I'm just a guy who wore his Roland Garros cap all morning today. So I don't know how they make it rain, but the facts don't lie. When was the last time there was a major tournament that had sunny weather every single day? If they had a big championship in Death Valley, I guarantee there would somehow be rain before the semi-finals.

I'll leave it to the conspiracy theorists to figure this one out. Perhaps Oliver Stone will make a movie about it. Maybe there's a cloud-seeding rifle on the grassy knoll at each stadium. Maybe they make it rain with the blimp that's always hovering above. Let's face it, that would be a much better use of it than taking pictures of cars arriving and leaving.

However they do it, I can personally testify that it's a big success. They even had little Roland Garros merchandise stores in other parts of Paris. And sure enough, while we were walking near one of those, it started to rain. We went inside, but showed great restraint. We did not buy the little bottle of red clay dirt that was selling for 15 Euros. That's right. They actually sell dirt. What kind of suckers do they think we are? Of course, if it had only been 10 Euros...


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