reports from Queen's Club
Jeremy Bates was quick to deposit yesterday's first-round victory at the Stella Artois tournament here in the drawer marked "one to forget". It was all a question of balls, you see. Too heavy, said Bates, who led the chorus of complaints emanating from the players' locker-room about a new ball which the administrators hope will enhance the spectacle of grass-court tennis.
Bates won comfortably enough - 6-4, 6-3 - against the German, Markus Zoecke, but the match, played under threatening skies and in a swirling wind, was definitely not one to win back the crowds.
The intolerable weather was one thing - "it was so cold it was hard to believe it is the middle of June," Bates said - but it was the balls and their lack of zip that most disturbed the British No 1, who ought to benefit from a muzzling of the game's heavy artillery.
The rules were altered at the start of the year to allow for more flexibility with the pressure of the ball and Ian Wight, the tournament director at Queen's, said that the Slazengers being used for the first time here have "marginally reduced" pressures. He said that although the players had been using them in practice since last Wednesday only one, Boris Becker, had ventured to comment about them.
Bates changed that yesterday, describing the balls (which will also be used at Wimbledon) as "absolutely dire" and complaining that "sometimes you hit them and nothing happened". Bates said his opponent felt the same way, talking about it non-stop.
Certainly Zoecke needed an excuse for a wayward display of hard hitting that saw good opportunities turn to waste. "The combination of calls, wet weather and the balls made it disastrous for me," he said.
Bates needed only to keep the rally alive to be confident of winning the point. He never looked back once he had broken for a 3-2 first-set lead and was able to survive scares in the eighth game when Zoecke had two chances to draw level.
Hampshire's Chris Wilkinson went down 6-4, 6-0 to Tommy Ho, of the United States. His own assessment was that he was "pathetic" and he was also grateful to blame the balls: "Now you come to mention it they were slow, especially for someone like me." David Wheaton, the ninth seed who once made the runners-up spot here, also went out, beaten 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 by Jared Palmer.