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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September 2003, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Spin when you're winning
By Chris Charles

Lleyton Hewitt in Top Spin
Hewitt stars in the game

The strawberries may have shrivelled up and the cream long since gone sour, but the action on the tennis courts is just hotting up.

Of course, there's the small matter of the US Open, currently being fought out at Flushing Meadows.

But for addicts fearing a tennis-free winter, help is at hand.

Just when you thought the only racket you'd be hearing was from the radiators groaning back into life, X-Box have come up with Top Spin - a game so realistic, you'll think Lleyton Hewitt has popped in for tea.

So realistic in fact that Tim Henman never wins a match.

(Admittedly he's not actually in the game, but would that really make any difference?)

Unfortunately, all this attention to detail takes time and since the team of 25 developers started work on Top Spin two years ago, two of its biggest names - Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis - have retired!

By the time it hits the streets in November, Michael Chang will also have thrown in the towel and Anna Kournikova will probably have her own chat show.

Anna Kournikova
Kournikova has the X-factor

Mind you, anyone who thinks she was included for her ability on the tennis court is obviously a couple of sets short of a championship.

Production director Stephane Dupas was quick to acknowledge as much.

"One of the designer's jobs involves staring at pictures of Anna for eight hours a day to make sure he gets an accurate representation!" he explained.

Nice work if you can get it.

"Each player has 70 different expressions they can pull," Dupas continued.

"They also grunt and you can make them give attitude, good or bad." (Depending what kind of day you've had, presumably.)

All of the players involved in Top Spin, including Kournikova, Hewitt, Sebastian Grosjean and Daniela Hantuchova, visited the production offices in Paris to demonstrate how they play their shots.

"We have covered just about everything," Dupas added. "There's backspin, volleys, drop-shots, lobs and, of course, topspin - to recreate that element of surprise.

"You have a large variety of weapons at your disposal, including the 'Risk Shot', which allows you to hit the ball really hard and is an almost guaranteed winner - if you can keep it in."

And you don't have to rely on the big names to fight your battles for you.

Pete Sampras in Top Spin
Pistol Pete is still firing in this game

If you think you can do better on your own, you have the chance to create your very own player, making them as big and ugly as you like - complete with broken nose and dodgy mullet.

You can even hire a coach to take your man or woman from complete unknown to top dog quicker than a Sampras backhand.

Then there's the venues - ranging from the lush grass of the 'Great Britain Championships' (are you Wimbledon in disguise?) to weed-covered, back street courts.

So you could be faced with a situation where you have a 20-stone swamp monster thrashing the world number one on a surface you wouldn't take a dirt-bike on.

And if that doesn't whet your appetite, nothing will.






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