Researchers at the Center for Disease Investigation (CDI) in Atlanta, Ga., believe they've identified a new and potentially lethal condition that appears to affect tennis fans, particularly knowledgeable ones who know that there's no "t" in Wimbledon. The disease has been tentatively named Vamos Syndrome, because it has been closely linked to over-exposure to both still and video images of the world renowned Spanish tennis player, Rafael Nadal.
The symptoms of Vamos Syndrome, or VS, include a tendency to interrupt unrelated conversations with spontaneous exclamations about the extraordinary "humanity" or "humility" of the 25-year-old, 10-time Grand Slam champion, as well as delusions of being intimate with Nadal, or of having a quasi-mystical or even parental or spousal understanding of his words and actions.
Some who suffer from VS develop an obsessive tendency to remain seated before a computer, repeatedly clicking on long-dated advertisements for men's underwear, or music videos featuring the pop star Shakira—although an even more virulent form of this obsessional behavior has been linked to recent videos featuring Nadal and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Bar Refaeli.
"While there is still much we don't understand about Vamos Syndrome, we believe it is caused by over-exposure to images of Nadal," said Dr. Harlan Cattegut, head of the CDI's mobile disease identification unit for the southern region. "It seems particularly linked to the increasing number of images of Nadal wearing just hair gel and underwear or very tight jeans, or squirming around on the equally bare body of a singer or model."
Cattegut hastened to add that VS doesn't appear to affect fans of women's tennis, "Or fans of other male players like that Serbian fellow, what's his name. . ."
One of the first patients diagnosed with VS was Connie Cerrone, a 43-year-old mother of three from Punxatawny, Pa. She was examined by the CDI mobile unit personnel shortly after she used her husband Harvey's credit card to order 1,000 pairs of Armani Emporium men's briefs in size 32 shortly after the company began to air commercials featuring Nadal as the model.
"I got suspicious when I saw the make and size of the drawers," said Harvey Cerrone, who owns his own pest-control business. "I'm a Fruit-of-the-Loom guy, and I wear only 2XL striped boxers. When that first shipment of those itty-bitty things arrived at the house, I thought they were my Valentine's Day present. Then I went, 'Whoa! Something ain't right here!' To tell you the truth, I thought Connie was having an affair with a pool boy or something like that. But that was too obvious. Then, when UPS kept bringing in more and more boxes and the credit-card company called, I knew something else was going on."
Although VS appears to almost exclusively affect women, men are not immune to it. Wayne Derien, the owner of a card shop in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, recently was arrested for making death threats directed at Phil Knight, the founder and CEO of Nike, the clothing company that sponsors Nadal.
Derien apparently was upset that Nike insists that Nadal actually play tennis clothed. "It's just another corporate crime by the 1 percent," Derien reportedly said. "It keeps the rest of the world from knowing the real, soulful, sensual, and physical being that is Rafa."
"We feel it's not an accident that Mr. Derien got himself into trouble less than 48 hours after Sports Illustrated released those seemingly nude videos of Mr. Nadal and the female model," Dr. Cattegut said. "We think it might have pushed him over the edge. In fact, there was an enormous spike in VS behaviour in the patients we've been tracking for nearly 72 hours after that release."
Spokesmen for Nadal, the ATP and Sports Illustrated vigorously deny that VS is directly related to the risqué nature of Nadal's increasingly frequent appearances in the buff, or nearly so. In a joint press release, they declared: "Rafa ought to be embraced and honored rather than criticized for the humility with which he has agreed to be the instrument used to celebrate the beauty of the human body in an exciting, high-fashion context. There is absolutely nothing unseemly about the union of sports and fashion; in fact, it's the synergy of the moment."
Yet, critics point out, Nadal's career-rival Roger Federer is, if anything, even more of a fashionista than Rafa. Federer is good friends with fashion empress Anna Wintour, and while he has legions of fans worldwide and great hair, he's triggered nothing like VS.
"It's because Roger has the dignity and good sense to keeps his clothes on, and he doesn't do all that heroin-chic stuff," said Federer's manager Tommy Gottsinger, who believes that all of tennis will suffer if VS is proven to be the direct result of Nadal's videos. "Look, Nadal isn't careful, some of these people will start jumping off bridges and stuff. Next thing you know, that Sally Jensen will write one of those articles again. . . ."
"Rafa is no fashion-forward degenerate," countered Rex Ringo, a freelance tennis writer who is also working on Humble Bull, a screenplay based on Nadal's life. "He's just so. . . real. So. . . down-to-earth. Sources in his camp told me just the other day that when he's on one of of those photo shoots, he doesn't hit on the women, not even the stylists, who are easy. He's given to sitting quietly and humming the tune to 'Guantanamera' between takes. How can you criticize a guy like that?"
Dr. Cattgut insists that at this point, VS poses no threat to the population-at-large, or even tennis fans who just enjoy watching the game.