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Oh, the Games they Play (That is, When They're Not Playing Tennis)
by Elizabeth Schatz
Tuesday, September 2, 2003


With the courts under water and the schedule of play consistently up in the air, players wandering the halls under Arthur Ashe Stadium have to find something else to do.

Poker, anyone?

Top-seeded players like Kim Clijsters and Juan Carlos Ferrero, who have matches scheduled today and must be ready at a moment’s notice should the clouds part, are keeping their competitive juices flowing with different sorts of contests. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are present, only now it’s mostly about card games and something called Spoons.

No. 1 Clijsters and a group of friends set up camp at a large round table in the player dining room and began an impromptu game involving quarters that, from the casual observer, had absolutely no point. They flicked them between other quarter “borders,” then occasionally slapped them down on the wooden tabletop with a squeal. Maybe a break from mental challenge was what she was looking for.

“We were doing nothing, just playing around,” Clijsters said, giggling, as she sat next to boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt. “We’re bored!” Any Euros on the table from the Belgian? “No, no, just quarters.”

Jonas Bjorkman, the Swede who is scheduled to play No. 5 Guillermo Coria today, wasn’t risking his quarters, instead using Scrabble letters as currency in a nearby poker game with several friends, including Wayne Black from Zimbabwe.

“We are playing – how do you say it? – a friendly game of poker,” said Pancho Segura, the 82-year-old Hall-of-Fame player and coach of Jimmy Connors, who was showing fine form against his much younger opponents.

“The Swedes are winning, but they always win. They cheat,” said Carl Neufeld, head coach at Southern Methodist University. When asked the official poker-playing language of the international crew, Neufeld said, “Mostly profanity. That’s the common language.”

No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero, awaiting his fourth-round match against American Todd Martin that was supposed to take place yesterday, had tired of foosball last night and was now tucked into a corner playing cards with his coach and girlfriend. He kept a steely gaze as he flipped cards into the middle of the table.

What are you playing?

“It’s a Spanish card game.”

Who’s winning?

“Not me.”

When asked if he was as good at cards as he was at tennis, the French Open champion looked bewildered, unable to understand the question in English. His girlfriend came to the rescue, wagging her finger back and forth and whispering, “Noooooo.”

Junior player Katarina Zoricic, scheduled to meet American Nehi Uberoi in the first round, could have been honing her hand quickness as she dominated a game of spoons. The game involves players furiously passing cards around a table until someone gets four of a kind. He or she then grabs a spoon from the middle of the table, and others follow suit. But there is one fewer spoon than players, meaning one slow poke loses each round. The end of each heated round left players whooping and screaming louder than the pants Bud Collins, standing next to them in the players’ lounge, was wearing.

Zoricic, who is from Canada, said, “The loser has to do something crazy. We haven’t decided what it will be yet.” Possible suggestions: taking on Kim Clijsters in “quarters.”

The most popular of the games in the players’ lounge cum fun house had to be chess. The USTA brought in Dmitry Schneider, the No. 1 player in the United States aged 18 and under, to entertain those brave enough to take him on. Schneider, a tall, thin brunette who, coincidentally, was a high school tennis player before his chess obligations became too time consuming, cruised back and forth a long table, playing seven games at once against players and their friends who tried in vain to outsmart him.

“All the games, I’ve won pretty easily. But a few were interesting, and I had to think, so there wouldn’t be an accident,” Schneider says, alluding to an upset. “If I lost, it would be a big deal. I want to avoid that.”

What better crowd to appreciate that frame of mind than a room full of the world’s best tennis players?

“Max Mirnyi played Roger Federer,” said Schneider. “Roger won.”

So yes, players could be using the rain delay to work on their game strategy or view tapes of their opponent’s play, but coaches really can’t complain. If there’s one good thing that chess, obscure Spanish card games and flying spoons and quarters have in common, it’s this: at least there’s no chance of getting injured
 
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Games People Play
Joe South

Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean

And they wile away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they're covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine

Oh we make one another cry
Break a heart then we say goodbye
Cross our hearts and we hope to die
That the other was to blame

Neither one will give in
So we gaze at our eight by ten
Thinking 'bout the things that might have been
It's a dirty rotten shame

People walking up to you
Singing glory hallelulia
And they're tryin to sock it to you
In the name of the Lord

They're gonna teach you how to meditate
Read your horoscope, cheat your fate
And further more to hell with hate
Come on and get on board

Look around tell me what you see
What's happening to you and me
God grant me the serenity
To remember who I am

Cause you've given up your sanity
For your pride and your vanity
Turns you sad on humanity
And you don't give a da da da da da
 
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