Men's tennis tour makes rules less rigid

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TENNIS, as a spectator sport, has come under serious scrutiny recently. In May, Sports Illustrated ran a cover story with the headline, ``Is Tennis Dying?'' Other media reports have echoed SI's concern, suggesting that tennis is losing its grip - that circumstances, player attitudes, a glut of events, and administrative shortcomings are contributing to a drain on spectator interest.

The suggestions for putting tennis's house in order range from limiting players under age 17 to eight tournaments a year to shortening the season.

Among the first indications that tennis is responding to this situation are the rule changes adopted this month by the men's pro circuit, the ATP Tour. The rules are designed to allow more crowd movement and expression, plus make matches more appealing to fans. The changes permit:

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* Fans to react to a point so long as it doesn't distract players.

* Spectators above the lowest tier of seats to move freely during play.

* Broadcasters to place microphones courtside to pick up conversations between players and umpires.

The change with the greatest potential impact on matches - a reduction of the allowable time between points from 25 to 20 seconds - won't occur until after the US Open in September.

Top-ranked Pete Sampras, one of the faster players on the tour, favors the change. ``I think there is too much toweling off and too many other delays,'' he says. Players who violate the 20-second rule will be issued a warning. Thereafter, official discretion will be used in meting out point penalties.

This may mark only the beginning of reforms. The tour is studying proposals to permit coaches on the court during matches or after sets, and to streamline scoring to shorten games. Women raise a new crossbar

WOMEN are beginning to pole vault, which only makes sense, especially given the equal-opportunity nature of track and field. There are no ``men's'' only meets, and at the Olympics, women have competed in the strength events for many years - in the shot put since 1948 and the discus since 1928. More and more meet organizers are putting women's pole vaulting on the program, as happened last Sunday at the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia. China's Sun Caiyun, the winner of the Goodwill competition, owns the current women's world record of 13 ft. 5-3/4 in. In the US, a wide age gap exists between national record holder Melissa Price, 16, of Kingsburg, Calif., and her chief rival, Philippa Raschker, 47, of Marietta, Ga.

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