AUSTRALIAN BARRY Phillips-Moore was in the locker room in Paris during the French Open championships, showing eager onlookers a racket with a revolutionary string job that he is certain is a technological breakthrough for the sport.
The Phillips-Moore racket has only five lateral strings. The hitting area is a square grid consisting of two sliding layers of lateral and vertical gut, individually knotted and reinforced with tape or small band-aids. When the ball strikes the gut, it is actually propelled back by both sets of strings.
"In principle, this string job differs from a conventional one in exactly the same way a sponge table tennis bat does from a regular one," Phillips-Moore said. "The object is the same, to put heavy top spin on every stroke.
"All the manufacturers are interested in it. I'm trying to patent it but I don't know if I can, any more than you could patent a regular string job. But believe me, this is the thing of the future."
A keen student of the game who owns and operates a firm that imports and exports rackets and gut from Australia, Phillips-Moore has been stringing rackets for himself and tour colleagues for two decades. He has fiddled with innovations periodically and is sure that now he has built the elusive better mousetrap. His stringing is an adaptation of a concept developed by a West German who improved his ranking dramatically with it.
"The thought came to me while watching Bjorn Borg play," Phillips-Moore said. "He hits every shot hard, about six feet over the net, and it lands six feet inside the base line because he has so much top spin on the ball.
Although he doesn't really think about it, Borg's game is really a case of advanced technique. I thought this technique could be reproduced artificailly and the German racket gave me the idea how.
"With this string job, you hit every ball with 30 strings. You get both heavy top spin and pace from the trampoline effect of the stringing. Ordinarily a ball with top spin flies very slowly through the air, but with this it goes very fast and still stays in the court. You can thrash every ball hard and not hit it out. It makes for very exciting tennis, very fast rallies."
Phillips-Moore won a small tournament in Switzerland last month the first time he used the new racket, beating a couple of players who had beaten him recently, and had a good win in the first round of the French Open with it over Chilean Davis Cupper Patricio Cornejo, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0.
He lost in the second round to the talented young Hungarian, Balazs Taroczy, in four sets.
"I nearly had him, two sets to love, but I just don't have the back or legs any more," said Phillips-Moore, who limped noticeably during the match. "With my old racket he'd have killed me in three straight. I tell you, if I had my old speed I'd be a threat in tournaments with this racket."
Opponents have had fits playing Phillips-Moore and his futuristic racket. The ball comes off the strings without the familiar "thwack" so it is difficult to judge. The spin is sometimes so exaggerated that it induces mis-hits.
"The ball doesn't sound when he hits it, and it has a very long bounce," said Cornejo. "He make me run all over the court like stupid. He play very well with that racket. I must get myself a couple."
Phillips-Moore said some players have offered him as much as 30 per cent of their prize money if h'd string their rackets the new way, but at the moment he is biding his time, hoarding his creation.
He thinks that his new string job could add months or even years to his career, and perhaps make him for life if he can market it properly to the tennis-mad world.