By Jean Kirshenbaum, Sarasota, FL
This article was posted on Tennisnow.com on 7/1/18
Here we are at Wimbledon once again. It’s a time when thoughts turn to tea leaves in England and coffee beans in America and around the world.
Regardless of your preference, tennis fans everywhere too often spill the beans (coffee or otherwise) about game scores, sets won and match results.
It’s just a maddening travesty of fan sportsmanship, don’t you agree? Few fans can tolerate such an outrage—especially me. Rather than be informed of match status, I’d prefer to drink the tea and read tea leaves to predict winners, than to know them before I have actually seen the match.
So, unlike NPR’s amusing game of “wait wait, don’t tell me,” for serious tennis fans who can’t go to England, but must watch on television—albeit with pleasure at home or in a sports bar, it’s not a radio program game. Rather a precarious reality of SHHH SHHH don’t dare tell me anything—about game score, sets won, or even who’s playing.
In other words, if you want to keep your tennis playing friends and relatives, tennis fans must adhere to THE RULE: Don’t spill the beans. Don’t divulge any information, intentional or inadvertently. I may not yet have had a chance to watch my recording or to see a replay. Keep it yourself. Not a whisper. Shut up!
Here’s a recent example of a rule violation, so agonizing and so funny, I was nearly in tears from both.
The Text Menace
Although I was really ticked off at first, I presumed my dear friend Mara had broken THE RULE, which she had never heard of and knew nothing about.
Mara (just a few years in as fan of pro tennis compared to my 30+years, but just as avid. So she is relatively new to our world.) It was the first round of the French Open when Mara texted me during Serena‘s match with Krystina Pliskova, possibly a favorite, given Williams’ rust.
“Serena isn’t looking good,” she texted.
“God no” I thought, “Is she going out in the first round?!” Oh, this can’t be.” And why is she telling me this when she knows I am out and not watching, but probably recording the match?
What else else could I assume but that she was referring to Serena’s playing and the match score, and I was really ticked off. I didn’t want to know anything until I could see it for myself on my recording or a television replay, which, as I will explain later, carries its own dangers. I arrogantly texted Mara quickly to educate her about “THE RULE” in tennis that prohibits talking about scores, games, sets and match results.
“Rule? What rule?” Mara asked. I wanted to cry. “THE RULE, I texted, is: “Before referring to any game or set scores or match results, or even who is playing, by text or other means of communication (texting is the most dangerous.) you must first ask ‘Are you watching’?” Oh, I said, it’s too damn complicated; (it’s hard to express annoyance in a text) I’ll call you to explain,” and I did just that-before she could make things worse.
I tearfully but clearly explained THE RULE (which I have myself created based on decades of painful experiences with current and former friends, and one guy in Naples, FL, Alex, who, because I have broken the rule more than once, has left me hanging on by a thread as his first cousin. Now when I ask him, “Are you watching?” he usually replies “No, recording.” I can detect his veiled threat—even in a text.
Said Mara: “But I wasn’t talking about how she was playing. I was talking about how she looked in her tennis cat suit”, I agreed and then we howled with laughter when we realized our faulty cross communication when in desperation I had called her in a flash to tell her about “THE “RULE” and tennis fan “protocol.”
Let me now tell you about the other near RULE disaster when I got a phone call from my friend Anne while I was driving to see my psychologist.
Anne and I have known each other for decades. Although I know I can trust her to follow THE RULE, she was breathless.. I gripped the wheel tightly in fear, waiting for the racket to strike. No need. As I said, Anne knows THE RULE.
“Are you watching the match?” She asked appropriately.
“No I’m on my way to see a sports psychologist,” I said with relief. “Why are you seeing a sports psychologist?”
“Well, as you know, I’ve never been a great player and now I’m getting worse and losing confidence."
“Maybe” she said with good intention, “instead of going to a sports psychologist you should see tennis pro.”
Thanks, my reliable friend, for that sage advice, “Oops, gotta go, Gary is calling,” I Iied. I couldn’t wait to hang up.
But, I couldn’t stand it; I had to know. I waited a few minutes, called her back and apologized for the short call. I gave in.
“Ok. Who’s playing? “Nadal.” “Who is he playing and what’s the score?”
As you know by now, I want to know nothing about a match if I’m not watching it, but in this case I gave myself the luxury of breaking THE RULE, only because there is no mystery when Nadal is on clay. He was likely to win.
So how can you protect yourself against spilled beans?
• First, you should not look at any texts on your cell phone. Do not answer the phone, cell or landline. Better yet, put the cell in in a drawer or under the mattress, and set the read-out setting to off.
• You must also avoid looking at email, since invariably, if matches have been completed before you have watched your recording, an email from a tennis site will spill the beans in a subject line: “Coric Feeds on Federer at Halle” or “Serena gorges on Goerges”. In fact, I take pride in the fact that I browbeat Tennis Now to change its ways, and convinced the editor to write neutral headlines that no longer spill the beans.)
• If you go out while recording tennis and go out, switch to another station, just for insurance. Why? Because as soon as you walk in the door, as I do, you risk what you have tried so hard to avoid—spilled beans. Although what’s on may be well beyond the match you have been recording, it’s likely match results crawl on the bottom of the screen, even worse, the commentators will provide updates on previous matches. I had no one to blame but myself for this: I had recorded the Wozniacki vs. Konta match at Eastbourne. That match was long over when I turned on TV only to see a large graphic of the draw, which indicated the next round for the Woz had won and that that she would next play Barty. How could I have been so unthinking? Wishfully, I freed up some DVR space by deleting the 220 minutes I had recorded on that oddball beIN Channel, which, is now the default channel for most WTA matches
• Finally, Take it from me, Shhh and beware should be your everyday words during any tennis tournament, for . I have learned the hard way.
At this point, it is just to confess to my readers (if I have any at this point) that I myself broke THE RULE.
Here’s how it went down: One morning I texted Mara to see if she was watching the Federer-Kudla match. Before I texted her, I read her previous message in our thread, which said “shucks, we have to leave.”
She obviously wasn’t watching the match; she had left home. Wasn’t it safe to tell her that that Federer won. Absolutely not.
She replied “Wait, you weren’t supposed to tell me.” Clearly, Mara had proved to be an excellent student. She gently applied THE RULE.
O my god, what was I thinking? Your arrogant beans professor broke THE RULE. I had accidentally spilled the beans Sheepishly, I apologized and she forgave me. I promised her ice cream (Stay tuned because that’s a hint for my next installment, “Chocolate Vanilla or Strawberry.”)
That brings me to Michele, my college roommate, who dodges THE RULE altogether, except when she is watching tennis live. Thus, little worry about spilling the beans to Michele, who doesn’t seem to care about my silly rule.
“But Michele, I insist, tennis isn't only about scores and match results. Just think about the fantastic shot making, the fist pumps and the tears, the silly lying down on the court in victory and those small, dramatic moments that are so telling."
One of my favorite moments was the pre-match warm up of Federer and Raonic at their Stuttgart final. The high-energy Milos Raonic was swinging his racket in the air and dancing right and left across the net from Federer, who, at 36, is the Old King Cool of tennis. The 6’4” Raonic was bouncing around like a jumping bean.
For a moment, Federer interrupts his steady gaze across the net and then, and then and then? He looks down at his racket, and then? In a moment of delicious drama, he neatly adjusts a single string. Possibly a subtle put down? I would never want to miss such a poignant moment. In fact I replayed it several times, just to savor the dignity of the moment. The match couldn’t be as good. And, for me, it wasn’t.
On the other hand, my friend Aimee, wouldn’t miss a match, and has even listened to it on the radio. Hunh? Yup, you read that right. On her drive from Florida’s’ west coast to the east coast, she asked me to look up the ESPN station number on Sirius Radio, so she could listen to the match. Otherwise, said the New York native, fawgeddit, I give in. “Who’s winning?”
After all, who has hours and hours to watch tennis? I admit that I sometimes bend or ignore THE RULE. I sometimes fast forward through matches, stopping to watch if the score reaches a deuce or an ad point, and otherwise looks interesting or exciting. Then I move on to the next instance of interest.
Speaking of rules, My USTA rule book, coffee stained and dog eared, is a lengthy 114 pages. Tennis rules can be extremely complicated, counter intuitive, and just plain silly. Nevertheless, I would like to increase the book to 115 pages by adding my own brief, uncomplicated rule regarding pro tennis on TV. You got it! SHHHH.. DON’T SPILL THE BEANS