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Tennis / Lisa Dillman : Maybe the Time Has Come to Give the Pros a Break

October 04, 1987|Lisa Dillman

Yannick Noah has been resting his weary body--and mind--on the beaches of France while his counterparts travel the globe to hit tennis balls.

Noah has been off the tour since mid-July but apparently is preparing to rejoin it this week in Switzerland. In his public comments during the layoff, however, he sounded anything but enthusiastic about resuming the grind.

Tennis burnout--mental and physical--is hardly a new concept. Bjorn Borg walked away from the game in his mid-20s. He's only 31, but it was 1980 when Borg won his final Wimbledon title and 1981 when he took the French Open for the last time.

In the most recent celebrated burnout case, John McEnroe took a 6 1/2-month sabbatical in 1986. This year, he has been forced to the sideline because of various injuries and now a 60-day suspension.

These are not merely isolated cases. The women's side has Tracy Austin, Andrea Jaeger and many others as examples. Chris Evert, for one, has taken extended breaks frequently during her long career, and Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver have followed.

The tactic certainly seems wise when you consider the state of the tour. Between regular tour events, Grand Slam tournaments and exhibitions, top players often have more commitments than there are weeks in the year.

The solution would seem to be a schedule reduction. Why not adopt an off-season of some length after the U.S. Open? Of course, it isn't practical to block out three entire months because of the Masters and the Davis Cup final.

"Maybe just December, if nobody could play a Grand Prix tournament in December it might be better for the game," Stefan Edberg said. "You could train during that time. It is very difficult to take time off in this game because you lose it so quickly."

Certainly McEnroe would agree with that. His comebacks after taking time off have been roller coaster rides. Mats Wilander, too, found it difficult to regain consistency after missing seven weeks in 1986.

American Tim Wilkison suggested, though, that having an off-season was easier in theory than it would be in practice.

"It probably would be a good idea," he said. "But everybody wants tournaments. There are more people that want tournaments than there are weeks available."

The way Edberg looked, and talked, after losing to David Pate in the Los Angeles Grand Prix final here last week, though, it would seem as though some sort of an off-season might benefit the players.

After Los Angeles, Edberg flew to Barcelona, where Sweden is playing Spain in the Davis Cup semifinals this weekend on clay. He was hoping for limited action, perhaps just in doubles, but instead was selected to play singles because other Swedish team members were injured.

After the Davis Cup, he is committed to play in an exhibition in Atlanta this week.

"Sometimes your body says you can't take this anymore," said Edberg. "I haven't come to that. Yet."

The Colleges: USC--which held the No. 1 ranking and was undefeated until the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament--will have more than just Rick Leach to replace next season.

Leach, of course, is the son of USC Coach Dick Leach. After teaming with Scott Melville to win the NCAA doubles title, he turned pro and, most recently, qualified for the Los Angeles tournament at UCLA's L.A. Tennis Center. There, he reached the second round before losing to Eliot Teltscher.

The other blow, this one basically unexpected, fell when Luke Jensen also turned professional. Jensen had played two seasons for the Trojans, mostly at the No. 2 singles spot. He arrived at USC with impressive credentials, having earned the No. 2 world junior ranking and having won Wimbledon and the Italian Open junior events.

This summer, Jensen won the bronze medal in singles and gold medal in doubles at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis. He decided to turn pro after the U.S. Open and signed with International Management Group (IMG). His first tournament as a pro was the Transamerica Open in San Francisco, which concludes today.

Add Colleges: Another men's program in transition this season will be Cal State Long Beach's. During Larry Easley's third year as coach last season, the 49ers gained national recognition by defeating such schools as UCLA, Pepperdine and Clemson. Long Beach reached a No. 2 national ranking heading into the NCAA tournament, then slipped to No. 5 after losing to Tennessee in the quarterfinals.

Last week, Easley announced his resignation. He publishes four regional tennis magazines, including Tennis West, and has moved to Atlanta to get another one, Sports South, off the ground.

Easley believes Long Beach's program can maintain its excellence. Former player Kevin Smith is the interim coach, and All-Americans Greg Failla and Pat Crow return this season.

"If I could do it, someone else could do it," Easley said. "The obstacles are still there and it isn't easy to recruit against schools like USC and Stanford."

Tennis Notes

UC Irvine will hold the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Assn. (ITCA) Southern California women's tournament Oct. 22-25. Players from Nevada and Arizona will also be competing. Stephanie Harges of USC won the singles title last year, and Jessica Buss and Anne Moeller of San Diego State took the doubles championship. The singles finalists and doubles champions will qualify for the National Indoor tournament at the University of Minnesota, Feb. 4-7. And, the small-college women's tournament for the Western region will be held at Cal State Los Angeles Oct. 16-18. . . . The fourth session of the Challenge Series at the Forum will feature John McEnroe against Miloslav Mecir Oct. 12. David Wheaton, U.S. Open junior champion, will play 15-year-old Michael Chang of Placentia in the opening match.

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