The major storyline after the first weekend of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., has been more about the stomach bug and not the tennis.
Players such as Francesca Schiavone, Vera Zvonareva, Gael Monfils and Jurgen Melzer are among the top players forced to withdraw from matches due to the viral infection causing fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
Tournament organizers can hope that the event does not turn into medical ward like it almost did at the US Open back in 1988. A bug nearly wiped an entire session of play – and helped to determine one championship match in America’s Grand Slam tournament.
On September 9, 1988, the traditional second Friday schedule at the US Open in New York was nearly a non-starter as Rick Leach, stricken with a stomach flu, was forced to withdraw from the men’s doubles final against Emilio Sanchez and Sergio Casal, and Chris Evert was not able to post in her women’s singles semifinal against Steffi Graf for the same reason. Fans in the stadium were left to only watch Gabriela Sabatini defeating Zina Garrison in the other women’s semifinal and then being served some senior doubles featuring Hank Pfister vs. Tom Gullikson in senior men’s singles and then Bob Hewitt and Frew McMillan vs. Marty Riessen and Sherwood Stewart in senior men’s doubles.
Evert was sickened two nights earlier and did not leave the room until defaulting to Graf, who would go on to win only the third Grand Slam by a woman beating Sabatini in the women’s singles final.
“My body feels like it’s been through a war,“ Evert said in a written statement at the end of what was eventually her second-to-last US Open appearance. “Every muscle and joint aches. Physically, I couldn’t go out and play. I don’t have any energy. I think I’ve been through the worst of it, with the vomiting and diarrhea, but I still have a temperature of 101 degrees.”
Leach was sickened the night before the men’s doubles final and his condition was worse than Evert’s. He had a 103-degree fever and could not even stand out, vomiting much of the night before the final. He was actually hospitalized before being released the next day. The day before the final on Thursday, Leach had to stop practice after only a few minutes, claiming fatigue. The morning of the final, Leach was very ill and vomiting in the locker room.
Perhaps the best known episode of getting sick on court was Pete Sampras and his throwing up in the fifth-set tie-breaker of his 1996 US Open quarterfinal win against Alex Corretja (although I recall Andy Murray’s lunch being splattered all over the Grandstand court a few years back at the US Open in match against Arnaud Clement. No one wants to have the indignity of getting in sick in front of anybody, no less in front of thousands of fans and TV viewers.
Wojtek Fibak, the great Polish player of the 1970s and 1980s, was also the victim of a stomach bug at a very inopportune time. As documented in my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), on October 16, 1983, Vitas Gerulaitis won the men’s singles final at the Swiss Indoor Championships in Basel when Fibak had to rush off the court with a stomach ailment with Gerulaitis leading 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, 5-5. Said Fibak after the match of his predicament, ”I couldn’t stand it anymore.”