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August 30, 2002
by Bill Hogan

A tennis player at the U.S. Open actually withdrew from his first round match because he had a headache. Now I've heard the old "not now, I have a headache" excuse used before, but never from somebody competing at one of the most prestigious tennis championships of the year.


A headache is ample justification for not taking the kids to Chucky Cheese or Toys-R-Us on a Saturday. And a headache may exempt you from a trip to the mall for the back-to-school super-sale (then again, it may not). But when you're playing in Arthur Ashe Stadium on the first day of the U.S. Open, you take an aspirin, suck it up and serve.

Unless, of course, it's a splitting headache. That is, you trip over a ball boy chasing down an overhead lob and split your head open on the hard court.

I felt a dull pain gnaw at my brain stem when I read that U.S. Open security officials initially denied the New York City Police Department access inside the tennis center stadiums while matches were being played.

They were told that the fully equipped uniforms worn by New York's Finest may cause the spectators to feel uncomfortable.

There's a high profile, international sporting event taking place in the shadow of Ground Zero and an elite police force trained in anti-terrorist tactics is told its services would not be required.

Who's the genius that came up with the idea that the crowd would feel more at ease with Barney, sporting a nifty new blazer, two-way radio and stun gun, watching their backs while they enjoy the action on the court?

Show me the ticket holder that's comfortable with the fact that some hourly-wage employee experienced in the proper technique for dispersing an overzealous crowd congregating at the cappuccino stand will be able to handle any terrorist situation that may arise.

A stun gun is fine for handling the guy in the food court going ballistic because he has to cough up $20.25 for a lobster roll and a bottle of Evian. But it doesn't make sense to try to prevent police snipers from taking their position in the stadium rafters.

At a time when every single plane that passes over Arthur Ashe Stadium garners as much attention as a 130 m.p.h. Andy Roddick service ace, you just don't turn away anti-terror cops. God, my head is pounding!

(By the way, I didn't pull the price for a lobster roll and water out of a hat – but anyone who orders lobster at a sporting event in the first place should have to pony up – get a hot dog ya boob).

Pardon me while I pop a couple of Advil… that's better.

I get a cranial stitch every time I hear another woman player whine about having to face Venus and/or Serena Williams. "They're too good". "I guess I'll have to settle for getting to the semi-finals". "Nobody can beat them".

They are so far superior to the rest of the players on tour that it's causing "morale problems". Boo hoo.

The sisters have combined to win seven of the last twelve major championships. And they've been dubbed the "dominant duo". By my calculation, the numbers indicate that five of the last twelve majors have been won by someone other than a Williams.

And they're ready to throw in the towel, pack up their endorsement contracts and go home? What they should do is consider themselves lucky. Lucky that they're twenty-something and not forty-something.

In the five year span between 1982 and 1986, another "dominant duo" captured eighteen out of nineteen major championships.

You want to talk about "morale problems", ask any tennis player in that era what it was like to see Chris Evert or Martina Navratilova across the net at a major during that sixty-month stretch.

And I wonder if, when the Evert/Navratilova streak reached fifteen straight, Hana Mandlikova pouted over the prospect of becoming the next "victim" at the 1985 U.S. Open finals.

Did they have to drag her onto the court kicking and screaming? After all, she had no chance of unseating either one of the reigning queens of women's tennis. Why bother, right?

7-6, 1-6, 7-6. "That's why they play the game".

So what are these young ladies crying about? Honestly, it makes my temples twinge – like I just sucked down a super-sized slurpee. I may have to cut this column short (either that or take a freakin' aspirin).


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