Q: As a beginner, should I start out with a wood or metal racket? A: Metal rackets make the ball move faster but are sometimes difficult to control. They make tennis easier for the beginner, but most pros agree that a wood racket will force you to develop better stroking habits. The only drawback is that when you get made and throw and wood racket, it usually breaks. Q. What do most of the pros play with -- wood or metal? A: At the beginning of 1980, eight out of the top ten players in the world were using wood rackets. Q: What's a so-called "composite" racket? A: A composite racket is made of different combinations of materials such as metal, fiberglass and graphite. The hybrid wood composites are the recent rage because they give you the "feel" of wood plus the added zip and durability of the other element used. Q: Do you think a middle-aged hacker like myself would play better with an oversized Prince racket? A: You may, but don't buy a Jumbo because you think the enlarged head will give you a bigger sweet spot or enable you to gobble up shots that normally whiz by you. Devotees cite greater ease of play and improved volleying; but take out a demonstrator racket before joining their ranks. Q: What kind of strings should I put in my old wood racket? A: Nylon -- so you have something to play with when it rains. Q: I go through gut string jobs faster than chewing gum, but I'd sooner quit the game than go back to nylon. Any suggestions? A: Before you hang up the Dunlop, check the following options: Buy a thicker (14 or 15 gauge gut; use plastic inserts to keep the strings from slipping or "sawing"; try gut spray and/or glues to solidify the works. And as a last resort, hit the ball softer and with less spin. Q: I think the gut in my racket may be dead, but how can I tell for sure? A: Here are the bad signs: No "ping" when you strum the strings, strings discolored or brittle, spongy feel accompanied by elbow-numbing vibrations when you play. Still not sure? Take it to a tennis shop for a final reading. Q: If I string my racket at 80 pounds like Bjorn Borg, will I hit the ball harder? A: Sure, if you catch the sweet spot everytime. Otherwise don't be surprised if occasionally the racket is knocked out of your hand. Eighty pounds can be unforgiving on off-center hits. Q: Is there any way to perk up semi-dead or wet tennis balls? I hate to throw them away when I can still read the label. A: Try tossing them in the clothes dryer for 15 minutes. Guaranteed to make them warm and fuzzy for at least two sets. Q: I'm a chronic toe-dragger who hates to throw out perfectly good looking shoes before their time is up. What should I do -- tread more softly? A: Before you tamper with your playing style, next time you buy try a shoe with an abrasion-resistant polyurethane sole like the Adidas Rod Laver. Still burning through the rubber? Then apply Shoe Goo (a plastic-like glue for $2.95) to the affected area. It's better than taking out insurance on your big toe. Q: I don't play tennis very often, so what's wrong with playing in my running shoes? A: The soles of running shoes are bad for the courts, your ankles and your reputation.