Tennis: New slower balls, please: John Roberts talks to Pete Sampras about the search for the lost art of rallying

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The Independent Online
PETE SAMPRAS, whose serve-dominated Wimbledon triumphs of the past two years have heightened concern about the power game, questions whether a slower ball would improve the entertainment value.

The world No 1 was responding yesterday to a decision by the Lawn Tennis Association, partners with the All England Club in running the championships, to commission experiments with a slower ball in an attempt to revive the lost art of rallying.

'Grass is the fastest surface in the world, and I don't care what ball you put in the hands of myself or a Goran (Ivanisevic) or a (Richard) Krajicek, you are going to see a lot of aces and a lot of short points,' Sampras said, via a conference call from Hong Kong organised by the ATP Tour.

'The ball they've used at Wimbledon ever since I've been playing is a very heavy ball. It is tough to return and tough to serve with. A slower ball might help a little bit, but I don't think it will change things drastically.'

Dunlop-Slazenger, which supplies the Wimbledon balls, is ready to test softer missiles, probably on grass courts in the United States, for possible introduction at next year's championships. The manufacturer considers there is sufficient scope within the parameters laid down by the International Tennis Federation for this to be achieved. The ITF has changed the rules to allow a faster ball to be used on the clay courts at the French Open, where the problem is in direct contrast to the one experienced at Wimbledon.

Ian Peacock, the LTA's chief executive, pointed out that the sport's national governing body runs two ATP Tour grass-court tournaments before Wimbledon, and there was not a break of serve in either singles final at Queen's Club or in Manchester.

'We asked the manufacturer to experiment with the ball because we feel it is time to shift the balance slightly towards the receiver to give him a better chance of making a return,' Peacock said. 'We feel we owe it to the public to give it a try.'

One innovation due to be introduced by the ITF at Wimbledon and the three other Grand Slam championships is a reduction of the time permitted between points from 25 seconds to 20 seconds. This prompted an outcry by some of the male players, with Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg threatening to boycott the Australian Open in January.

Bill Babcock, the Grand Slam Administrator, will attend the ATP Tour tournament in Paris next month and reassure the players that umpires will continue to have discretion when applying the rule in extreme conditions, such as the heat of Melbourne.

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