- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

Our two most precious commodities, it’s often said, are money and time. Well, if sports aren’t costing us ridiculous amounts of the first, they’re costing us ludicrous amounts of the second.

I refer you to the recently completed match between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement in the French Open, the one that lasted a record 6 hours, 33 minutes. Six-and-a-half hours — over two days — to complete a first-round match? Heck, Rodin might not have spent that long in the company of clay when he was sculpting “the Thinker.”

Santoro’s and Clement’s marathon broke the previous mark of 6:22 by John McEnroe, a notorious procrastinator, and Mats “the Human Backboard” Wilander in 1982 Davis Cup dustup. Which just goes to show you: Our sports aren’t getting better, they’re just getting longer.

I have no doubt Messieurs Santoro and Clement put forth great effort during their epic encounter. But I’m equally sure they did a fair amount of dawdling. Tennis is second only to baseball in nervous tics and general time wasting. Some players, while serving, do more dribbling than Jason Kidd. (And didn’t Jim Courier, later in his career, used to read books during changeovers?)

Santoro, who prevailed 16-14 in the final set, cried when it was over. Many in the crowd at Roland Garros — those who prefer a more prompt resolution of their sporting events, that is — probably felt like doing the same. Yes, the rallies on clay tend to be longer, and Grand Slam matches are best of five sets (with no tiebreaker in the fifth in the French), but still … 61/2 hours?

To put this in perspective (with the help of Google), here are some other things that have taken 61/2:

• Performing a liver transplant.

• Space walking outside the shuttle Discovery and repairing the Hubble telescope.

• Quelling a jail riot.

• Rescuing a woman from the rubble of a factory explosion.

• Translating the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(OK, I made the last one up, but you get the point.)

And yet all Santoro and Clement did was determine who advanced to the second round of the French Open. Quel horreur!

It isn’t just tennis, though. It’s everything. In a column last week in the Boston Globe, Bob Ryan noted, “The famed Celtics-Suns triple-overtime game June4, 1976, lasted 3 hours, 8 minutes. The Pistons-Nets three-OT game May14, 2004, needed 4:07 to complete. I’m not even sure what the question is.”

I do. The question is this: How do sports get away with adding so much “padding” to their games? So many commercial breaks. So many arena promotions. So many courtside interviews. So many things that waste our precious time?

Seriously, why did the Pistons and Nets need an extra hour to play their triple-overtime game? So Kidd could blow kisses from the foul line? So Rasheed Wallace could get another tattoo between the second and third OTs?

Not that football’s much better. The Redskins had a game at Atlanta last season, you may recall — a regulation game, no overtime — that dragged on for 31/2 hours. That game, believe it or not, took more time to play than the so-called “longest game in NFL history” — the playoff between the Dolphins and Chiefs on Christmas Day 1971 that lasted 51/2 quarters (and ended a mere 3 hours, 21 minutes after it began).

Then there’s the incredible lengths Arkansas and Kentucky went to last season to decide their SEC scrum: seven overtimes. Had Wildcats quarterback Jared Lorenzen not fumbled on fourth-and-3 at the 5-yard-line, securing the Razorbacks’ 71-63 victory, the two teams might still be playing. As it was, the game took nearly five hours (and was the second time in three years Arkansas had a seven-OT game.) Anybody for a coin flip?

Hockey games also move at an increasingly glacial pace these days. Remember that never-ending playoff game between the Flyers and Penguins a few seasons back — 71/2 periods, seven hours? Let me just point out that the Red Wings and Montreal Maroons had a playoff game in 1936 that ran even longer (nearly nine full periods) but didn’t take nearly as much time (5 hours, 51 minutes). Blame it on the Zamboni, I suppose (which didn’t exist in ‘36).

Someone somewhere will call the Santoro-Clement marathon a “classic,” but it’s hard to see much romance in it. It was just two guys meandering their way through a clay court match, as tennis players are wont to do. If anybody’s endurance was tested, it was ours, not theirs.

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