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High-tech rackets reveal their ugly side on grass

Michael Stich didn't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but he _ with help from Wayne Ferreira _ uncovered an ugly side of grass-court tennis last weekend. And with Wimbledon coming up next week, the issue isn't likely to fade away.

Here's the deal: The high-tech rackets that have made pro tennis, particularly the men's game, so much faster is exaggerated when the game is played on slick, low-bouncing grass courts.

To wit: Stich's 6-3, 6-4 win over Ferreira at the Queen's Club tournament Sunday lasted only 57 minutes and was filled with aces and few rallies. On 39 points, the ball crossed the net only once.

That the grass-court season comes on the heels of the French Open, where long rallies and nail-biting drama are the norm, only magnifies the situation.

"It was not a good match," Stich said. "By the end of the first set, it felt like one game. The whole match felt like one minute to me."

The question is, do fans feel the same way? And if so, how long will they continue paying $20 and $30 to see this brute force brand of tennis?

Stich said those questions already are being answered so there's no need to ask them anymore.

"The media is destroying the game," he said. "People are writing every day about how the new rackets have made the game too fast. If it's so boring, then people wouldn't come to see it."

Here's hoping Andre Agassi, who won Wimbledon last year with his baseline game, is able to return this year despite a wrist injury.

Dynamic duo: Gigi Fernandez and Natalia Zvereva are bucking to become the greatest doubles team of all time. The twosome's French Open crown was their fifth straight Grand Slam title, three short of the Open era record of eight in a row by Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova.

Heading into the defense of their Wimbledon title, they are 30-0 since joining forces last year in May. And for what it's worth, grass is one of their best surfaces.

Shriver in double trouble: Shriver's problems during the Dow Classic last weekend didn't end with her attempt to bean Zina Garrison-Jackson. After the heated match in which Shriver became agitated by loud Garrison-Jackson supporters in the stands, Shriver went into the locker room and made an unflattering comment about the group of fans.

Problem was, one of the fans was the boyfriend of Katrina Adams, who just happened to overhear Shriver's comment. Adams and Garrison-Jackson are close friends and former doubles partners.

Streaking Steffi: Steffi Graf's French Open win keeps alive her streak of winning at least one Grand Slam each season. Graf has won one for the last seven years. That's nowhere near the record of 13 straight years held by Chris Evert.

By the way, Graf, the defending champion at Wimbledon next week, has a career match record of 625-80. Evert, also the record holder in that department, was 1,309-146.

Some serious R&R: Don't worry about Navratilova being worn out at Wimbledon. Following her third-round loss at a Wimbledon warmup event last week, she has played just five Kraft Tour matches since Feb. 21. Ironically, that was the last day Monica Seles had played (she lost to Navratilova in the Paris Indoor final) before being stabbed during a tournament in Germany in April.

To get more work on grass, Navratilova entered this week's tournament in Eastbourne, England. She's the top seed.

Around the tour: Tampa's Jared Palmer will get a spot in the main draw at Wimbledon. His first-round opponent will be determined later this week. Mary Pierce, a former Tampa Bay resident, is playing Wimbledon this year for the first time in her career. At a Wimbledon warmup event Sunday, Lori McNeil won a rain-delayed semifinal, then the final and then the doubles final. "I've had a good week," she said. If you're looking for a surprise Wimbledon contender, you've found it.