Campaign for smaller rackets

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The Independent Online

John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Martina Navratilova were among a list of 36 former players and professional observers who put their names to an open letter delivered to the International Tennis Federation yesterday calling for a reduction in the width of racket heads from 12.5 inches to nine inches.

The goal is to preserve the art of serve-and-volleying before the style disappears. Britain's Tim Henman is one of the few remaining exponents of the traditional attacking game as the large-headed rackets encourage baseliners to take huge swipes on almost every shot.

In 2000, as a result of the last change to the rule concerning rackets, the ITF decreed that the maximum width of the frame should be 12.5 inches. with a maximum strung area 11.5 inches wide and 15.5 inches long. A typical wooden racket in the late 1970s had a head nine inches wide and 10.75 inches long.

The letter to the ITF president, Francesco Ricci Bitti, drafted by John Barrett, the BBC commentator, states that, "Our sport has become unbalanced and one-dimensional. Today we see few matches involving players of contrasting styles. Instead we have a preponderance of baseliners using Western grip forehands, most of them with two-handed backhands, and hitting with fierce top-spin.

"The reason for this change is clear to see. Over a period of years, modern racket technology has developed powerful, light, wide-bodied rackets that are easier to wield than wooden rackets were and have a much larger effective hitting area, often called the 'sweet spot'.

"Because it is so easy and effective to hit top-spin drives, players are reluctant to come to the net. Volleying against these fast, dipping drives is extremely difficult, so that even players who are natural volleyers think twice before coming in.

"Even more serious is the fact that coaches are not encouraging young players to learn volleying skills, because they know that it is easier to win matches from the baseline.

"Even on fast courts 90 per cent of the matches are baseline contests. On slow surfaces matches tend to become tedious and even boring because players will try to hit early winners from the baseline and inevitably commit a high percentage of unforced errors.

"Present racket technology makes it possible for less skilled players who are large, strong and fast to hit anyone off the court."