Court same as last year: Federer
Chip Le Grand
January 10, 2007
DESPITE rumours to the contrary, Roger Federer believes the centre court speed and bounce for next week's Australian Open has not changed since last year, when Lleyton Hewitt publicly railed against tournament organisers for the slowness of the Rod Laver Arena.
Federer has been in Melbourne for a full week preparing his title defence and was asked yesterday for his verdict on the centre court surface, the subject of bitter dispute between Hewitt and former tournament director Paul McNamee.
"I find it pretty much the same," Federer said.
"I didn't feel any difference to last year. I was also expecting a big difference because everyone has been talking about it.
"But the bounce is usual. It adapts to the heat and everything; when it is more hot it bounces more, it flies more. That's how it has always been here in Australia, so I don't see a change really."
New tournament director Craig Tiley instructed Rebound Ace to prepare the centre court surface earlier than normal to allow greater "consistency and uniformity" over the two weeks of the Open and between the Rod Laver Arena and outside courts.
This was widely interpreted as providing a faster, more Hewitt-friendly court to avoid a repeat of last year's surface tensions. A month ago, Wayne Arthurs noted a lower, quicker bounce than previous years. "Lleyton will like it, I think," Arthurs said.
With the start of the tournament only five days away, however, Federer's assessment of status quo was backed by Andy Roddick, a two-time semi-finalist in Melbourne.
"I was expecting the same as Roger," Roddick said. "I heard in the last couple of weeks maybe it was going to be a little bit quicker this year but it kind of feels similar to past years."
The speed and bounce of the Melbourne Park courts has been a perennial bugbear among Australian players, although Hewitt is the first to take the issue on as a personal crusade. In one press conference last year, he did not rule out a link between the court surface issue and his reluctance to make himself available for Davis Cup duty.
But Hewitt's disparaging description of the surface as "green clay" is at odds with the roll call of recent men's winners: US Open champions Federer, Marat Safin and Andre Agassi plus Thomas Johansson, whose other best grand slam result was at Wimbledon. Federer, Roddick and Safin will today shift their preparations across town from Melbourne Park to Kooyong for the start of the AAMI Classic.
Today's order of play at Kooyong from 11am:
Andy Roddick (US) v Tommy Haas (Ger);
Roger Federer (SUI) v Radek Stepanek (CZE);
Marat Safin (RUS) v David Nalbandian (ARG);
Andy Murray (GBR) v Ivan Ljubicic (CRO)