Talk of Security Comes to the Net

PLAYER security has seldom been a major concern in pro tennis, but it is sure to receive greater attention in the aftermath of the stabbing incident at the recent Citizen Cup in Hamburg, Germany. The knife-wielding spectator who assaulted Monica Seles reached over a low restraining rail while the world's top female player sat with her back turned during a service changeover.

The accused perpetrator, an avid fan of Steffi Graf, apparently was motivated by a desire to keep Seles from overshadowing Graf. Seles was returning to the circuit after an illness, but now will have to forego the French Open and probably Wimbledon, too, as she recovers in Vail, Colo.

Her inactivity might ordinarily lead to the loss of her No. 1 computer ranking to Graf, who visited her rival shortly after the incident occurred in Seles's match with Magdalena Maleeva. The Women's Tennis Association, however, is reportedly considering some method of minimizing the impact of the 19-year-old's absence on the rankings.

How tennis will respond to this sorry act remains to be seen. An immediate overreaction would be understandable, in terms of added and more visible security.

Over the long haul, however, it is hard to imagine that a great deal could or should be done. This sort of thing has not happened in the past, and there's no reason to expect it will happen, with any predictability, in the future.

As Seles herself said at a press conference last week, tennis officials "shouldn't get paranoid, but they need to improve security."

Players should certainly be stationed beyond the reach of spectators during changeovers - if for no other reason than to protect them from overaggressive autograph seekers. And closer shepherding of players to and from the locker room to the court may be advisable at some tournaments.

The real need in tennis, as in other sports, however, is to be aware of which athletes may need protection - not simply because they are major celebrities, and sometimes controversial ones, but also because they are national or political symbols, even if unintentionally.

Seles grew up in Yugoslavia. And although she has lived in the United States since age 12 and has tried to keep her distance from the animosity raging at home, even a neutral stance offends some. In fact, she has received death threats from Croats because of her Serbian Hungarian roots.

Surely, tournament officials must do all within their power to ensure the safest possible playing environment. It may be unreasonable, even unwise, though, to let one ugly occurrence dramatically alter the appealing proximity of players and fans.

One official at Wimbledon has said he doubts that fences are the answer. And certainly tall, forbidding ones would rob many tournaments of the special ambience they try to foster. Basketball shooting masterpiece

When Michael Williams of the National Basketball Association's Minnesota Timberwolves shoots his first free-throw next season, the moment will hold great personal significance, even if it has little bearing on the game.

Williams, who ended the current season by making 84 straight free throws, will be trying to extend the league record he broke in Minnesota's April 25 season finale. On that occasion, he used his 10-for-10 marksmanship against Utah to erase Calvin Murphy's old NBA milestone of 78 straight, which had stood for 12 years.

Murphy, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame yesterday, remains unmatched for season-long accuracy. The closest anyone has ever come to his .958 percentage was .948, turned in this season by Cleveland's Mark Price, who made 77 consecutive free throws during one stretch.

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