How do you cool down all that power?

July 06, 1994|By Wayne Coffey | Wayne Coffey,New York Daily News

WIMBLEDON, England -- Princess Diana walked out on men's tennis. Really. She and her sleeveless red dress got up from the royal box at the end of the second set between Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic last Sunday, retiring to a balcony to sip tea.

Di was also in the box Saturday, wearing a black-and-white dress. (You were expecting the same outfit on back-to-back days?) On Saturday, she did not go anywhere. She sat there transfixed by the wonderfully compelling drama that was played over three sets by Martina Navratilova and Conchita Martinez.

It could be that Di's walkout was prompted by nothing more than thirst. If so, she is in a distinct minority at Wimbledon, where the distaste for the current state of men's power tennis is as prevalent as double-decker buses.

In 116-degree lawn-top heat Sunday, the distaste may have reached an all-time high as Sampras' unstinting excellence and Ivanisevic's ace-a-thon couldn't conceal the fact it was not at all pleasing to watch.

Tennis is at its viewing best when it gives us contrast. Think of Borg vs. McEnroe, Navratilova vs. Evert. They were great to see because the artistry was so different; McEnroe and Navratilova, hitting volleys as if the racket were a magic wand, Evert and Borg nailing line after line with their groundstrokes.

Quite apart from Navratilova's quest for a 10th title in her Wimbledon farewell, her match with Martinez was great to watch because it had the same contrast.

The hand-wringers here would have you believe the game as played by the likes of Sampras and Ivanisevic, firing their 120-mph lasers, is barely even tennis. While that's certainly stretching the point, it's also true that, especially on grass, power is beginning to hammer tennis' subtleties right into the ground.

Even Boris Becker, a 6-3, 187-pound ball-masher himself, is concerned.

"I used to be one of the tallest in the locker room. Now I'm medium," he said. "Probably in 20 years I'm the smallest around. Players serve harder. Everybody seems to have grown a bit more.

"It's just that the power game is more and more there. I was the first one who started it in that direction, and now I'm playing guys who hit even harder than me. You have to think about whether it's good for spectators to see a match where there's no rally more than two or three strokes."

Sampras, who is No. 1 by a greater margin than any player in the 21 years of the rankings, made a plea in defense of the power game.

"The tennis was very high class today," he said after Sunday's final. "Maybe you're not seeing a lot of long rallies, but it's tough to hit a serve that hard in a matter of three or four inches. It's very difficult to do."

What can the ITF do to prevent power from becoming even more predominant? Well, the most effective measure -- restricting or eliminating graphite rackets -- will never happen. The legal minefield would never end.

Several other ideas -- going to one serve or shrinking the service box -- are so drastic they almost surely would not get beyond discussion stage.

Probably the most likely measure to be adopted is a change in the pressure of the balls. Especially on the fast grass of Wimbledon, it would seem the easiest and surest way to slow the thunderbolts to a more reasonable speed, and maybe even keep Di in her seat until the end.

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