D.L. Stewart exclusive: Tennis tackles terrible towel troubles

These are worrisome times for sports.

Football is grappling with how to reduce concussions. Baseball constantly has to be on guard against performance-enhancing drugs. Golf needs another Tiger Woods. Auto racing needs to find ways to prevent drivers from running over each other on the track.

And then there’s the troubled game of tennis which is faced with the dilemma of … towels.

While not yet prompting hearings by Congressional sub-committees, the tennis towel issue threatens to become a problem so significant it merited a front page story in Monday’s New York Times. According to the article, some observers think players are taking too much time between points using towels to wipe off their hands, foreheads and other body parts. Not only does excessive towel-usage delay the game, critics insist, it may even be a ploy to upset an opponent’s rhythm.

John McEnroe, widely admired for sportsmanship during his playing days, raised the towel issue while commenting for television during this year’s Wimbledon. John Newcombe is quoted as demanding, “Can we stop the towel please? Hit one ball, towel.”

For tennis, the issue of prolonged wiping comes on the heels of last week’s controversy about whether fans should be encouraged to make noise during matches or just sit there silently as if they were in a church or a library. Players came out on both sides of that question. Maria Sharapova, for instance, said she was in favor of the fans making more noise. But then, Sharapova’s on-court shrieking would drown out the best efforts of 20,000 fans in the stands cheering. (Click here to view video of a shrieking Sharapova. You may want to turn down your audio first).

As the US Open proceeds in New York for the next fortnight, sports fan can only hope tennis officials can come up with answers to these profound problems. If not, they may have to throw in the towel.

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