The weather conditions in New York this past week have featured very high temperatures: hot, with periods of scorching, and humid, almost jungle-like. Throw in a few bolts of lightning, some thunder and the odd bit of torrential rain and you have a typical late-August, early September week in the Big Apple. Those who are dealing most with the effects from these sauna-like conditions are the men and women on the courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open. Not just the competitors, but the ball-boys and ball-girls – ball-people? – who might better be called towel-people.
Even my fellow Montrealer Eugenie Bouchard had a tough time coping with the heat during her fourth-round match, eventually losing after taking an extended medical break to be iced-down. Is this wicked heat a new ripple at the US Open? Battling not only your opponent, but the elements as well. I doubt it, it’s been hot and muggy in New York in late summer for eons. Is global warming to blame? Could be, but I doubt it.
But the players’ reaction to the heat has evolved. When I was in university I worked as a tennis court attendant, not that I played the game, but someone has to sort out who plays when. That was me. Spending much time with tennis enthusiasts did rub-off on me a little and I took an interest in the game. At that time the big rivalry was Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors. They played some monumentally tough long matches that would have drained most professionals. When these players’ faces became covered in perspiration they used the aptly named sweat bands to sop up the moisture. A towel was a rarity unless they were sitting between games.
Today’s US Open players turn to the towel after almost every point. Like T-shirt clad butlers the ball people appear from nowhere with towel in hand. The player towels off then unceremoniously tosses the wet towel back to the bearer, often without even looking. Now maybe it’s because I’m a typically over-polite Canadian, but it seems to me a little respect could be shown these attendants rather than a sweaty towel in the kisser. Those are people, humans, not towel and bearing drones. I know the players are wrapped up in the competition, but a little decorum can only bring about a bit of good karma in my mind. Can you be classy and competitive? Ask Montreal Canadiens’ legendary captain Jean Beliveau!
But you’ll be pleased to know the classic sweat band has not been retired, many players still use them as well as the towels. In fact it has become traditional to remove the used bands after a match and hurl them into the crowd. Yep, most expensive seats in the house and you get a wet sweat band in your lap. Shades of Elvis tossing sweaty scarves and tissue to those “lucky” enough to have good seats. I’m hoping this trend doesn’t catch-on with Sumo wrestlers.
By all means keep using those towels, but show a little class when returning them to the ball person!