Excitement in early US Open tennis play; Zola Budd in top form

John McEnroe, the defending champion at this year's US Open here and one of the most versatile tennis players around, indicates he has retired from doubles. He says he needs to concentrate more on his singles, citing the problems he faced against Shlomo Glickstein in his first-round match earlier this week as a good reason why. ``I've never been so happy to win a first-round match,'' a relieved McEnroe said after barely defeating the unseeded Israeli in a harrowing fifth set tiebreaker by 9 points to 7. The set scores were 6-1, 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6.

Glickstein has frequently been among the world's top 30 in recent years, but is currently ranked only 175th.

If McEnroe's was among the most exciting first-round matches, Anne Minter's was easily the most unusual. Why? Because she had to play her sister, Elizabeth, who is two years her junior. It was only the second time since the women's championship began in 1887 that sisters had squared off in this tournament, the other occurring in 1916 when Elizabeth Ostheim defeated her sister, Gertrude. The Minters went at their match good-naturedly, with Anne scoring a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

``When we saw the draw we said, `At least now there will be some interest in us. Otherwise there would be nothing,' '' said Elizabeth Minter as the two women laughed in the aftermath of their match on an outlying field court.

The Australian siblings will join forces in doubles. Elizabeth, who won the US Open's junior girls event in 1983, was an All-American at UCLA before turning pro. Anne, the world's fifth-ranked junior in 1980, keeps inching her way up on the circuit, but has enjoyed no spectacular results to date.

Incidentally, McEnroe recently faced his younger brother, Patrick, in a tournament in Vermont, and breezed to a straight-set victory.

Wooden rackets are fast becoming the Model-Ts of tennis. That at least appears to be the case here at the US Open, where even Chris Evert Lloyd has gone to graphite despite winning the title six times with wood. Mid-sized graphite rackets, similar to the one Chris uses, are all the rage these days. In a survey conducted at Wimbledon earlier this summer they were in the hands of better than 80 percent of the world's top players. Wood rackets, meanwhile, have dropped from an 85 percent share of the pro market to less than 5 percent.

Composition rackets made by blending graphite with other materials are today's state of the art -- strong yet light. Players can choose a frame to suit their game, from very flexible to very stiff. The material is basically impervious to the elements, eliminating the need for racket presses to prevent warping.

According to Dave Lumley, a spokesman for Wilson Sporting Goods, the emergence of the mid-size racket has just occurred in the last several years. Before that, large-head rackets with 110 square inches of hitting surface were becoming increasingly popular, and the standard size with 70 square inches less so. The pros, however, have clearly shifted toward the mid-size with its 85 square inch racket head as a compromise.

Lumley says the trends among professional players are reflected in public sales. He notes that black rackets are the most popular, partly because they look powerful, and that serious players buy according to the brand name. The name on the racket means so little that Wilson has quit making a Jack Kramer autograph model, its all-time best seller, and now simply sells a Wilson Pro Staff.

Despite some erratic results, Zola Budd is proving to be a legitimate running star given the right circumstances. Those in London earlier this week obviously qualified, as she set a world record in the 5,000 meters, beating previous record holder Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway in the process. The conditions were ideal, and for Zola that meant not just good weather, strong competition, and a fast track, but the absence of controversy and undue media attention. Both have been her traveling companions since she left South Africa to become a naturalized British citizen before last summer's Olympics.

To avoid the anti-apartheid disruptions that sometimes have marred her races, Budd's participation was kept secret until the last minute. Running in a relaxed atmosphere, she lowered the old mark by more than 10 seconds to 14:58.89.

It was her third win in nine days, and along with a strong third in a race where Mary Decker Slaney set a 1500-meter record, indicated that Budd is blossoming.

Track stars need time to develop, and Zola may still have her best years to come. The big question, though, is how well she can weather the storm of attention and controversy that swirls around her.

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