Rafael Nadal was walking along West 59th Street by Central Park last week, talking on his cellphone, when he spotted the gangly figure of Justin Gimelstob, a retired tennis player, puffing and panting while jogging by him. Nadal pulled down the phone for a moment and said, “How many miles are you up to?”
Gimelstob said he made a bet with Andy Roddick that he could compete in the marathon.
A week earlier, at a tournament in Cincinnati, the topic was the same. Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych and Gimelstob bantered about times, miles and rules. How fast must he go? Will he have enough time to train? Is there even the slightest chance he can do it?
At the United States Open, there are the usual questions about who will win the event, who will have the most intriguing outfit and which celebrities will attend.
But another subplot is percolating. Roddick has wagered his good friend Gimelstob $10,000 that he will not be able to complete the New York City Marathon in November. At the time of the bet, Gimelstob had never run farther than three miles.
The loser of the bet will write a check to the winner’s charity — the Justin Gimelstob Children’s Fund for children with cancer and blood diseases, or the Andy Roddick Foundation for education.
Even Gimelstob, now a board member of the Association of Tennis Professionals and a commentator on the Tennis Channel, has to acknowledge that Roddick may have made a shrewd bet. Not only has he never been a distance runner, but at 6 feet 5 inches and more than 200 pounds, and with a chronic bad back and overactive sweat glands, Gimelstob, 33, is not the prototypical marathoner. He is a breakdown waiting to happen.
The highest tennis ranking he attained was No. 63 in 1999. Over his career, he has had 29 cortisone injections. He has a surgically implanted screw in his left foot and, as he explained, he sweats while brushing his teeth. Gimelstob is more likely to cramp up into the fetal position than run 26.2 miles in less than five hours, but those who saw him scratch his way through a 12-year tennis career say his determination will prevail.