Mike Yellen had a little problem at the beginning of the professional racquetball tour last September. He wasn't playing well. Sort of sluggish, he said.
Yellen, a three-time national champion, was eliminated in the early rounds of the first two Racquetball Manufacturers Assn. tournaments. He began to fret. And then he made a change.
Yellen, 26, decided to use an oversized racquet, one that is two inches longer and three inches wider than what most pros use.
When Yellen first walked onto the court with his racquet, he received more than a few you've-got-to-be-kidding glances.
"They thought it was a joke," said Yellen, a 10-year tour veteran. "Everyone laughed at me."
His opponents thought it was a gimmick because the racquet was a new product introduced by Yellen's sponsor. But Yellen insisted he would not jeopardize his standing in the name of product endorsement.
Since switching racquets, Yellen has made five of six finals, winning two tournaments and finishing second three times. Heading into this week's $40,000 Ektelon national championships at the Sports Gallery in Anaheim, Yellen is three points behind Marty Hogan in the tour's overall point standings.
"I feel I could play a good game with any kind of racquet," Yellen said. "At the same time, I can feel a different response with the racquet I'm using now over one that just returns the ball."
Yellen said the oversized racquet has two advantages.
"First, the extra length allows me to hit the ball harder and with more leverage," he said. "Second, it allows me to retrieve shots an opponent hits that ordinarily would be out of reach."
In spite of Yellen's success, not many pros are using the racquet, which has been on the market for nine months, because it is manufactured by only one company. Besides Yellen, about four of the top 25 pros are using it. Equipment sponsors want their players to use their racquets.
"I think eventually other companies will start making them," he said.
Yellen got a jump on the racquet because he is involved with product development. He tested the racquet last summer during the off-season--the RMA season runs from September to June--and liked its feel.
Still, Yellen started the season with a normal-sized racquet. Until he played poorly in two September tournaments.
"I probably was just a little stale in my game," he said. "I'm not sure I would call it a slump, but my first two tournaments were not what I would like. I thought I'd give the larger racquet a try, and basically, I just walked through that first tournament."
Yellen, from Southfield, Mich., found that he was capable of fighting power with power, and easily defeated Hogan in that tournament. He has won 86% of his matches since, and is not looking back.
"It's difficult to change from that kind of success," Yellen said. "I'd have to be crazy to switch back to anything else."