BEFORE an age barrier goes up in women's pro tennis, two precocious teenagers are shedding their amateur wings. Three weeks ago, 14-year-old Martina Hingis of Switzerland was the debutante of record, turning pro at the European Indoors championship in Zurich, where she lost to French Open champion Mary Pierce in the second round. Now it's Venus Williams's turn, as the 14-year-old black who lives in Pompano Beach, Fla., steps up to play in her first Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour event in Oakland, Calif., beginning Oct. 31.
Spectacular careers have been forecast for both players, but many observers say their decisions to turn pro are premature. Next year the Women's Tennis Council will bar 14-year-olds from regular tour events and require 15-to-17-year-olds to work up to the elite level. By joining the circuit now Hingis and Williams will be exempt from these restrictions.
Martina Navratilova, the new president of the WTA's Tour Players Association, disapproves of what Hingis, who was named for her, has done. Navratilova did not bother to watch Hingis's opening match while both were in Zurich.
Chris Evert, whose success as a teenager triggered the tennis youth movement, has advocated raising the age limit on the women's tour to 16. She cites the various challenges faced by Tracy Austin, Andrea Jaeger, and Jennifer Capriati, who at one time or another were labeled prematurely as the next in the Evert line.
Evert has said some of the young players making millions on the pro tour are too young to make any decisions for themselves.
Although Evert played in pro tournaments while still in high school, she didn't turn pro until she graduated. A player's career and financial success, she once told USA Today, should not interrupt the family's structure.
@HEADBRIEF = Touching other bases
* According to a report in last week's Boston Globe, the Big East Conference is working on a tentative deal that would send the loser of the Nov. 12 Boston College-Syracuse football game to the Aloha Bowl in Honolulu on Christmas Day. Makes you wonder what the incentive to win is, doesn't it? The answer, presumably, is a higher national ranking from playing in a more prestigious mainland bowl. This would bring the school more money, but one suspects some of the players, if given the choice, would opt for Hawaii. Just how Boston College's disappointing 7-7 tie with Rutgers on Saturday will impact anybody's luau plans is hard to say.
* As major-league baseball teams secure new managers, one is struck by media images of baseball managers in street clothes, not uniforms. In virtually every other sport, the coaches wear street clothes. In baseball, where playing managers and coaches were once common, donning team garb is traditional. It helps that the uniforms approximate street attire. Just imagine a basketball coach in shorts and a tank top.
* With the financial results in from last summer's World Cup soccer tournament, the event's board of directors has voted to pay Alan Rothenberg, who ran the Cup, $7 million. Rothenberg turned down a $350,000 annual salary upon taking the reins of World Cup USA, preferring his worth be determined after the fact. He's not complaining about the outcome.
* One of the most striking sights at the 1984 Olympics was the Fuji blimp hovering over Los Angeles, a sure sign that - in the brave new world of Olympic sponsorship - the name of the game was money, not national ties. The rules won't be any different in 1998. The Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, N.Y., outbid Fuji last week to become the first international sponsor of the '98 Winter Games -
in Nagano, Japan.
* The Navy-Notre Dame football rivalry, such as it is, transcends geography. The series has touched down in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, East Rutherford, N.J., and South Bend, Ind., where the 68th game in the series will be played Oct. 29. Never have the two schools met on the Annapolis campus. Navy's football stadium simply isn't large enough.