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TENNIS NEEDS AN AGE LIMIT, BUT WHAT SHOULD IT BE?

When the Women's Tennis Council's Age Eligibility Commission makes its report Friday, one thing is certain. The findings will shake things up.

In a sport that often consumes its young, few issues stir as much controversy as the question of age. How old should a player be before being able to turn pro? At the moment, the limit is 14. The commission is considering raising it, perhaps to 15, maybe to 16. Is that enough? Too much? Just right?Tennis officials agree there should be some kind of restraint. They're just not sure age is it. It is a place to start, though.

Lynne Rolley, the USTA's director of coaching for women's tennis, thinks age is just one part of the issue. "What I would like to see the commission do, actually the Tour do, is have more levels of tournaments," she said.

"I'd like to see players prove themselves at every level of the ladder, from juniors to pros before they can move on. I'm not really concerned about age level. It's more the progression level that worries me."

Rolley wonders how mature 14-year-olds can be. "The problem with a lot of young players is they can play on the court at a high level but they aren't developed socially and emotionally."

Peachy Kellmeyer is director of International Operations for the WTA Tour and arranges the tournament commitments for the top players.

"I've always said there's not one `magic age,' that you can see people handling life on the tour," she said. "There are 14- and 15-year-olds that are mature enough to be on the tour and there are some at 18 who aren't ready."

Martina Navratilova, newly elected president of the Women's Tennis Association, thinks an age limit is proper.

"Doesn't it say in the Consitution you have to be 16 years old before you earn full wages?" she said. "You can't keep people from making a living, but you can prevent them when they're 10 years old. You're supposed to be in school when you're 10 years old."