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IF YOU think you're tired at the end of the day, try getting a real job, such as international tennis star, touring golf professional or major league outfielder; after that your job in roofing or road construction will seem like a day at the beach.
Not that a day at the beach is a day at the beach. "Fatigue kills us," Brazilian beach volleyball pro Jose Loiola once said—and indeed, by comparison, coal mining is a walk in the park.
You think a walk in the park is a walk in the park? It ain't. Baseball's alltime walks leader complained at various times this year that "I'm exhausted all the time" and "I'm tired, I'm always tired" and "I sleep all the time, all day" and "I just go home and sleep" and—driving the point home the way he does base runners—"I get tireder and tireder." Evidently, the only thing more tired than the Barry Bonds story is ... Barry Bonds.
Professional athletes everywhere have never been more exhausted—the most used f word in locker rooms is fatigue. This month's Paris Masters was absent the world's top-ranked tennis player, Roger Federer, who wearily withdrew at the 11th hour. "Roger phoned this morning to say he is suffering from a general fatigue," announced aptly named tournament codirector Alain Riou, who ruefully added, "This is devaluing our product."
The same day, top-seeded Nadia Petrova withdrew from the Gaz de France Stars tournament, also suffering from a general fatigue. And so General Fatigue replaces General de Gaulle as France's most prominent figurehead. Colin Montgomerie withdrew from this year's French Open while suffering from fatigue, suggesting that two time-honored remedies for exhaustion—playing four straight days of golf; spending a week in Paris—only work when taken separately.
Vince Lombardi said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all," but in fact, fatigue makes skeptics of us all, because you can't always tell when fatigue is merely an excuse. Tennis officials, understandably, have a very bad case of "fatigue" fatigue, which is why the ATP is now threatening—like the disclaimer in a bank commercial—substantial penalties for hasty withdrawals.
But fatigue is a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in a golf sweater. Citing fatigue, Annika Sorenstam once withdrew from the Canadian Open after six holes, Gustavo Kuerten from a tennis match after 37 minutes and Vladimir Guerrero from a Los Angeles Angels game last summer after two at bats (two strikeouts).
When Chris Riley of the U.S. asked out of the afternoon alternate-shot competition at the 2004 Ryder Cup because he was tired from playing 18 that morning, he was pan-roasted in the world's media. But what is more American than fatigue? The word is a gift from France, as is the Statue of Liberty, whose very pedestal implores, "Give me your tired...."
And the world has obliged. Charlotte Bobcats center Primoz Brezec missed the team's first six games with exhaustion. (The Slovenian lost 15 pounds with a virus.) Irish actor Colin Farrell checked into rehab last December, in part for treatment of "exhaustion," and only a cynic would question that affliction.
Apparently, the glamour of one's occupation is inversely proportional to the sleep it affords. When it comes to fatigue, athletes are rivaled only by rock and movie stars. Nickelback just canceled its South African tour because of fatigue, Pamela Anderson a promotional junket in Australia for the same reason.