FAULT!

That's what someone should yell before the men's professional tennis tour takes another step toward marketing madness.

Yes, blistering serve after blistering serve can get boring. Three times across the net is a long rally.

But will purple courts, orange lines, four-game sets, and - groan - officially encouraged temper tantrums perk up fans' interest?

The chances of going out of bounds are huge. Every pro sport has its familiar setting. Within that setting, extraordinary athletes perform amazing feats. If attention is diverted from them to the electric orange of the baseline, something's lost.

And taking the lid off player behavior? The game has always had its "bad boys." John McEnroe's tirades were legendary. As were Ilie Natase's antics. Jimmy Connors never hesitated to play to the crowd. Some fans, no doubt, loved the show. But if everyone competes to throw rackets and bawl at linesmen, the response of the masses could be massive disgust.

Would other relatively low-key sports follow suit? Pro golfers might start "trash talking" while their opponents line up a putt. Pro bowling could stage mini-fireworks displays over the pins with every strike.

Ridiculous, of course. As are so many bright ideas that put flashiness over substance. Let tennis be tennis.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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