Tennis to be made more exciting by going slower

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The Independent Online
TENNIS has come up with an answer to those who say the sport is too boring: new balls.

In an attempt to combat the power of the serve on grass and the boredom of the prolonged rally on clay, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has decided to alter the specification of balls in top events.

On the faster surfaces, such as the grass of Wimbledon, a softer, slower ball that would encourage more rallies will be allowed. Conversely, the French Open, which has suffered from seemingly endless passages of play because of the slowness of the clay surface, will be allowed to use harder, faster balls. There will also be a cut in the time allowed between points, from 25 to 20 seconds.

The rules will apply to men's, women's and junior events, as well as the ITF's four Grand Slam tournaments - Wimbledon and the US, French and Australian Opens - and international competitions such as the Davis and Federation Cups.

At its annual meeting in Hong Kong over the weekend, the ITF discussed but rejected more radical measures such as restricting players to one serve or altering racket specification.

The last two men's singles finals at Wimbledon, both won by Pete Sampras, were seen as tedious and symptomatic of a sport in which expertise and improved equipment, particularly rackets, have overcome excitement. This year's Wimbledon final lasted only 115 minutes and was so dominated by the serve that rallies were as rare as diamonds. The condemnation was summed up by one British headline the next day: 'Samprazzzz'.

A study this year revealed that during an average men's hard- court game, the ball was in play for less than nine minutes per hour. On grass, the average was four minutes.

The feeling that tennis has short-changed the customer has had a financial effect: attendances at January's Australian Open were down 31 per cent; Germany's national television station is not going to renew its tennis contract; Kraft has withdrawn its sponsorship of the women's tour; and sales of equipment in America have fallen.