Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Balls feel heavier to players, organizers blame high humidity

AP , PARIS

Are the balls heavier at this year's French Open or not?

The question caused most of the post-match conversation here as first-round matches wrapped up Tuesday.

No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, like many, is convinced they are.

"The balls were heavier this year than I've ever played with here before," was Hewitt's comment after beating Brian Vahaly, 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-3.

No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero agreed.

More so than last year, the ball "gains speed as it comes," said Ferrero, last year's runner-up. "It seems to remain behind. It takes more strength to make it go through."

French player Fabrice Santoro, before ousting retiring former champion Michael Chang, penned a letter to L'Equipe newspaper to publicly complain about the balls, saying they cramp the style of attacking players.

"This year, the balls are limp and heavy, which is obviously not going to help [attackers] impose their game."

Jennifer Capriati, the 2001 women's champion, could feel a difference while beating Joannette Kruger in straight sets.

"If you're used to making winners, it's not happening as much because the balls are heavier," Capriati said.

Tournament organizers say that if the balls feel weighted this year, it could be the weather's fault. Wet, humid conditions last week probably left the clay courts damp, slowing the pace of shots, said Roland Garros sports director Stephane Simiane.

"It's the same rubber, it's the same felt," Simiane said in a telephone interview. He said this year's balls were identical to those used last year, and were produced by the same tennis ball company Roland Garros has used for the past five years. "It's exactly the same."

Nonetheless, players' complaints were being taken seriously and several balls used in first-round matches had been forwarded to the company for testing, Simiane said.

Andy Roddick was certain testing was unnecessary, even after he lost his opening match for the second year running to Sargis Sargsian 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

"I think I had a lot more to do with it than the conditions," Roddick said.

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