Australian Open Adjust Surface Speed
THE Australian Open court surface will be as fast for the duration of the 2007 tournament as it was for the second week of this year's event, and quicker Rebound Ace should mean a happier Lleyton Hewitt, who can claim a small but not insignificant victory.
Hewitt was around only for the opening days of the 2006 Open, losing in the second round to Juan Ignacio Chela before departing with his now-annual complaints about the pace of the rubberised hardcourt he maintains has done the Australian players no favours in recent years.
Since then, long-time chief executive and Hewitt adversary Paul McNamee has resigned, leaving new tournament director Craig Tiley to confirm at yesterday's Open launch that the main aim was to provide "uniformity and consistency" when the stadium's match and practice courts were resurfaced next month.
Yet as much as Tiley was at pains to stress the international nature of the event, the integrity of which must be upheld, the courts will be faster at least in the first week of the 2007 tournament, and that will suit Hewitt, the sole Australian man ranked in the top 100 and the beaten finalist in 2005.
Tiley said the Australian Open had been categorised as a "medium to medium-fast court" by the International Tennis Federation, and confirmed Tennis Australia's commitment to providing a surface that fitted that category on all courts for all 14 days of the grand slam tournament, which next year will offer a $20 million prizemoney purse for the first time — up 5 per cent, while ticket prices have risen by an average of 7.8 per cent.
"Where we ended up at the tournament last year, probably the last week is ideally where we want to have the entire tournament this year," Tiley said. "The courts will be the same as they were in the last week and they'll be in the category of medium to medium-fast.
"I think the perception was certainly that the first week was slower than the second week," he conceded, after much probing, while adding that player feedback about the court surface generally had been positive, with many of the top seeds reaching at least the semi-final stage.
Tiley said there had been "ongoing discussions" with Hewitt's management on various issues, including next year's opening Davis Cup tie against Belgium, but insisted international players would be kept equally well informed of court speed developments.
"We're talking to Lleyton's management on a variety of subjects but with this particular one, we've indicated to Lleyton's management team that this is our objective," Tiley said. "The general feedback we've got is, I would say (that he's) pleased with the fact that we are paying attention to this."