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Tennis Prunes Growth of Larger Rackets

September 20, 1996

As a tennis pro, Mavis Rush knows the value of more powerful strokes and better angles in striking the ball. As a 5-foot-5, 60-year-old woman, Rush also knows that she can buy both at a sporting goods store.

Rush, tennis director at the Worldgate Athletic Club in Herndon, Va., uses longer-handled, larger-headed rackets.

``I’ve always played with the oversized,″ she said. ``It gives you better reach.″

Rush is part of a growing market of players who want bigger rackets that will let them hit harder. Major manufacturers, which used to sell rackets 27 inches long, now sell many that are 29 inches or longer.

For older players, especially women, the added power and additional reach that comes from these bigger rackets means more powerful strokes.

``If a woman is weaker and 118 pounds, and she is playing someone 150 pounds, she needs all the strength she can get to put the ball deep,″ Rush said.

However, it’s not just physically weaker players who are using the larger racket.

``Even the younger kids are playing with it,″ Rush said.

And this troubles tennis officials, who fear their sport could turn into a series of power plays. That’s why the International Tennis Federation decided in June to cut the maximum racket length from 32 inches to 29. The change is aimed at forestalling racket growth toward the 32-inch level.

The rule takes effect next year for pros and in 2000 for amateurs.

``For a number of years, the public has been saying that the serve is too powerful,″ said Stan Malless, chairman of the technical committees of the ITF and the U.S. Tennis Association. ``There are too many matches on fast surfaces where the match is a series of serves without much play interspersed between the serves.

``We were trying to devalue the serve to make the game more balanced.″

Although there’s nothing to stop a player from using an extra-long racket for a recreational purposes, such rackets won’t be allowed in regulation play.

The goal is to halt what had become a technology-driven arms race on the court, Malless said.

In the old days, when all rackets were wood, 27 inches was about the longest a racket could be without breaking during play, he said. But modern metal or composite rackets can be made longer.

Some players may find the longer rackets give them problems, because the added power makes placement harder to control, said John Embree, general manager of Wilson Racquet Sports in Chicago.

That’s why beginners, who are trying to learn control, should use the shorter rackets, he said.

However, the company notes that the ITF ruling did not restrict all the ways in which rackets can be made more powerful. For instance, there is no limitation on weight and balance.

Wilson’s new rackets, which are 28.5 inches long, gain a lot of their power from having more weight in the head, which gives a swinging racket more force, Embree said.

``Mass times acceleration equals velocity, so the more mass, the more powerful the swing,″ he said.

End advance for Sept. 21-22

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