by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

WIMBLEDON, England — Here is the reason I will never be a world-class tennis player: I refuse to let a ball girl stick her finger in my eye.

This, apparently, is a new requirement at Wimbledon, based on the behavior of Shuzo Matsuoka, a tall Japanese tennis ace. Shuzo is the first man from Japan to reach the quarterfinals here since 1933.

He also travels with his own karaoke machine.

You think a finger in the eye is gonna stop him?

Shuzo’s eyeball was just one of the highlights of Wednesday at Wimbledon, a day that featured the horrors of racket abuse, Boris Becker aging 30 years during a single match, and Andre Agassi admitting that critics could be right, he may indeed be “short, fat, bald and ugly.”

More on those chilling stories in a moment.

First, the conclusion of Shuzo and the bad eye. There he was, in the second set against defending champ Pete Sampras, and Shuzo was cruising. He had won the first set, the folks back in Japan were already planning the ad campaign — “Be like Shuzo! Sing ‘Feelings’ At A Restaurant!” — and then, all of a sudden, he got something in his eye.

“A mosquito,” he later said.

The match was stopped while they sent for help.

Now, it seems to me a tournament as big as Wimbledon should have a Mosquito SWAT team on call at all times. Instead, the players sat there, waiting, until one of the ball girls, apparently trying to help, began to poke around in Shuzo’s eye! I’m not kidding here. She lifted his upper lid, his lower lid, and ‘scoped around as if she were looking for her car keys.

And Shuzo just sat there!

Now, I know the Japanese are extraordinarily polite. But Shuzo could have said a little something. Maybe, “Pardon me, ball person, thank you very much, you honor me, your grace, your highness, GET YOUR FINGER OUT OF MY EYE!”

In the end, the girl gave up and wandered off, perhaps to check the umpire for hemorrhoids. Meanwhile, the official trainer finally came out, and, following Wimbledon’s strict medical procedures, asked the standard question:

“So, did the ball girl find anything?”

Becker-Pioline old-fashioned tennis

Eventually, they flushed Shuzo’s eye with liquid, which was good for his vision, but bad for his volley. To be honest, Shuzo played better half-blind. Without the bug-eye, he went down quickly, losing three straight sets. Sampras advanced to the semis, the ball girl went home to wash up, and at last glance, Shuzo was wandering around the grounds, asking if anyone had seen a slightly wet mosquito.

Meanwhile, Becker was going a little buggy himself. The man they used to call Boom Boom had won the first two sets against Frenchman Cedric Pioline in less than an hour, 6-3, 6-1. At this rate, he’d be home in time for

And then, something strange happened: Great tennis broke out. I don’t mean the blazing serve stuff that is modern Wimbledon. I mean the good old-fashioned back-and-forth, hard- hitting, corner-to-corner, diving, poking,

drop-shotting, nerve-jangling tennis that hasn’t been seen on the men’s side since, well, since the days when Becker was winning this thing.

Becker and Pioline took more than three hours to play the last three sets. They went to tiebreak in the third (8-6), tiebreak in the fourth (12-10), and to 16 games in the fifth. Drama? Becker had a bushel full of match points, and each time, Pioline found something extra, a great passing shot, a rocket serve, a net cord that took a liking to him.

It was flat-out brilliant tennis, pushed to the limit. Becker, who actually trailed by two games in the final set, mustered all the courage of his old mop-top days, falling, diving, grunting at himself, until finally, with the shadows growing long on the worn grass court, Pioline’s last return went long,

and Becker threw his hands in the air. Game, set, marathon. He was one of the last four men still standing at Wimbledon.

“It’s a shame someone must lose such a match,” Becker said.

Did I mention Agassi’s “bald and ugly” thing?

Agassi has desire, but desirability?

As you know, not a day goes by here without something written about Agassi and 1) Brooke Shields; 2) His Doo-Rag; 3) Brooke Shields.

On Wednesday, after disposing of his opponent in straight sets, Agassi was asked the difference between this Wimbledon and three years ago, when he won it all.

“Well, one of the articles this time said I was short, fat, bald and ugly. I didn’t get that kind of criticism last time.”

One of the fine British tabloid reporters, fresh from an Elvis sighting, told Agassi he didn’t even make the top four “desirable men in tennis,” according to a recent poll.

“I can’t figure that one,” Agassi said.

The tabloid reporter then raced off to print that exact quote, which will read, in his newspaper, “Pete Sampras can eat my shorts.”

Speaking of up and down, we must, before we finish, mourn the passing of Goran Ivanisevic’s tennis racket, which was smashed to death by Goran himself, in a single swipe of anger. He was fined $500.

“I was surprised how easily I broke it,” Ivanisevic said.

He then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to pronounce his name.

So the top four men’s seeds (Agassi, Sampras, Becker, Ivanisevic) are in the semifinals, same as the women, the first time that has ever happened at Wimbledon. But then, there were lots of firsts Wednesday. And I would like to tell you more about them, but my eyes are tired. I think I’ll make an appointment with the ball girl.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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