Tennis: Ball is left in Wimbledon's court: New regulations will speed up the game on clay, but grass court question still has to be tackled - John Roberts on the problems of power that are facing the All England Club

THE International Tennis Federation yesterday corrected its announcement concerning the specifications of the ball. Though rules were altered at the weekend to allow for a harder, faster ball to speed up play on the slow clay courts of the French Open, no change was made with regard to faster surfaces, such as Wimbledon.

As unforced errors go, this one by the sport's governing body at least had the merit of raising a point. Wimbledon have as pressing a need as the French to make their championships more attractive, particularly in view of the negative response to the past two men's singles finals.

There is plenty of scope within the existing regulations for the All England Club to use a softer, lighter, slower ball, affording less power to players' elbows and inducing longer rallies.

'They (the ITF) are not changing the rule to accommodate Wimbledon should we wish to use softer balls,' Chris Gorringe, the All England Club's chief executive, said, adding that any changes for the championships would not be considered until discussions take place next spring.

Wimbledon's problem in addressing the so-called 'power game' - a combination of physically stronger players and advanced racket technology - is acute. While it is possible to make clay courts faster and to reduce the pace of rubberised concrete and indoor courts, it is not easy to tamper with grass. The sport's only natural surface continues to be dominated by big-serving players.

Statistics presented by the men's ATP Tour showed that the average length of a point on grass in the 1990s was 2.7 seconds compared with 3.8 seconds in the 1970s. On clay, the average length in the 1990s was 8.2 seconds, against 9.2 seconds in the 1970s.

The most radical change to redress the imbalance would be a return to wooden rackets, which is a non-starter. Another possible solution, restricting racket technology, has been discussed without the slightest hint of progress.

Experimentation with a slower ball would at least show the public that there is no complacancy.

A slightly slower ball was tried twice during the Bjorn Borg era, prompting immediate complaints by players that their arms were suffering. That was during the age of wooden rackets, though there is no guarantee that similar moans would not be heard nowadays.

About 31,200 balls are used on average during the Wimbledon championships, and players regard most of them as yellow perils designed to sabotage their prospects of glory.

This is not a slight on the integrity of the All England Club or any particular manufacturer. The suspicion is universal. It manifests wherever the sport is played, on whatever surface, no matter who makes the balls. It appears to be part of the players' psyche to assume that at least one rogue ball lurks in every batch as surely as there is a bad apple in every barrel.

How many times have we seen a player give a ball to an umpire, declaring it unsuitable for play, particularly after losing a point? Usually the umpire will squeeze the offending missile and then place it in his pocket. Perhaps the player is correct, and the ball is faulty; perhaps the umpire is humouring him.

Occasionally, by contrast, there emerges a silver bullet, a ball which is perceived by the server to have produced an ace, a service winner, an unstoppable volley or drive. In many cases, the player will not take his eye off that ball until it is returned to his grasp, rejecting alternatives tossed to him.

Top-class players are so sensitive to the slightest variable which can alter rhythm and break concentration that the very ping when a ball meets the strings of an opponent's racket is viewed an essential clue as to the type of shot being played.

Objections by opponents to the grunting of such as Monica Seles, Jimmy Connors and Thomas Muster were raised not on aesthetic grounds, but because the noise muffled the sound of the ball being struck. There is more to this than imagination. Players whose ears are bunged up from the effects of a cold complain that they cannot time the ball properly.

Wimbledon welcomes the ITF's decision to limit the time between points from 25 to 20 seconds. 'We are delighted,' Gorringe said, 'as we believe that one area of the game which needs improving is for there to be less delay during the course of the match, giving the fans more tennis to watch, and indeed we have been lobbying for this for some considerable time.'

The time during points remains a problem.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
fashionA new dress to enrage the internet...
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own