It was almost as if Tim Henman was voicing-over a lager promotion. "When I'm on the court and they crack the can," he said, "then that will be a good sound again." In fact, he was talking balls.
Wimbledon confirmed yesterday that they had agreed to open pressurised cans of new balls on court next month to please the British No 1. Henman complained to the All England Club after being told that the cans of balls were being opened "a couple of weeks" before the tournament. "It's one of the most bizarre things I've ever heard," he said. "That might have a part to play in why you feel like you're using flat balls after four or five games."
Having been eliminated in the second round of the French Open here on Wednesday, losing in four sets to Luis Horna, of Peru, Henman's thoughts naturally turned to Wimbledon. Reasoning why he had not played well on the lawns since 2001, Henman cited the introduction of durable ryegrass, which played slower and produced a higher bounce. He then asked Slazenger about the balls and was told that the cans were opened early.
Chris Gorringe, Wimbledon's chief executive, said yesterday: "Tim Phillips, the chairman of the club, and I have had a number of discussions with Tim Henman over the last couple of years and discussed various issues, including the preparation of the courts and the specification of the ball, which has remained unchanged since 1995. More recently, we discussed the practice of opening the cans of balls a short time ahead of the matches.
"This practice was certainly not a couple of weeks in advance. Although we havecontinually been advised by Slazenger that this would not make any difference to the balls' playing properties, we had nevertheless decided in April that we would open the cans of new balls on court. As with the other Grand Slams, this will be the case at the 2005 Championships."
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