Size does make a difference

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The Independent Online

As a 5ft 9in Christian, Michael Chang takes inspiration from the story of David and Goliath. Competing against big-serving opponents of 6ft 4in and above, however, prompted him to try to even things up a little. So he added an inch to the length of his racket.

This was quite in order. The rules allow for a racket to be up to 32in, and Chang's is 29in. But the American's success provoked the authorities to think again, fearing that the goliaths of the game might retaliate by reaching for the biggest club.

As a consequence, a motion seeking to limit the length of rackets to 29in is due to be submitted to the International Tennis Federation's annual meeting in June.

Most rackets are 27in or 28in long, but, as the current issue of ITF News points out: "A rival some 10 inches taller - like Todd Martin - using a 32in racket, would serve the ball from more than a foot higher than Chang using his current racket".

Chang acquired the weapon early in 1994. He took time to adjust to the difference, but persisted with characteristic determination. Maintaining his place in the world's top 10, the 23-year-old gradually increased the potency of his serve and started hitting a surprising number of aces.

Technology has helped, but so has Chang's revised approach to the game. "I spend a heck of a lot more time practising my serve," he says. "When I was younger I used to concentrate on hitting groundstrokes, but when you can win a few free points you don't have to work so hard in every game."

Chang, denied a triumph by Thomas Muster at the French Open last June, has advanced impressively to the Australian Open final. Tomorrow's opponent is Boris Becker, a mere 6ft 3in.