THE threat of a Wimbledon boycott by several of the game's leading clay-court players seemed to have receded last night after The All England Club's compromise decision to place 32 seeds instead of 16, while still re-arranging the order according to past grass-court form.
"We've been speaking to a lot of our players and although many of them want to see how the new system will work out before coming to any conclusion, in general they think it is a positive step," said Larry Scott, chief operating officer of the ATP.
Even so, Alex Corretja and Juan Carlos Ferrero, two of the most vociferous critics of Wimbledon's tradition in giving seeding priority to players with the most impressive grass-court records, are still refusing to commit themselves to The Championships.
The two Spaniards, fifth and ninth respectively in the entry system ranking which they have insisted should be respected, both say they will wait to see what seedings they are given before making any decision.
"I'd like to play Wimbledon but I first want to see where I'm going to be seeded," Corretja said. He could probably tolerate being listed below last year's runner-up, Pat Rafter, and Britain's Tim Henman, whose grass-court form has been so superior, but not much lower.
Corretja reiterated that his argument is not solely with Wimbledon but with the ATP for changing the ranking system in such a way that clay-courters are penalised if they do not play at Wimbledon.
Ferrero's coach, Antonio Martinez, said his player was afraid that he would be penalised for having no previous grass-court form.
Fellow Spaniard Carlos Moya, still unhappy that the order can be changed, said: "I'll always play Wimbledon because I want to improve," but welcomed 32 seeds, as did Britain's Greg Rusedski.
Wimbledon's decision to seed 32 in both the men's and women's singles on a surface-based system was announced in Paris and the three other Slams will follow suit. Indeed, while some might baulk at the prospect of 32 seeds, limiting the likelihood of early shocks, the fact that the French will also seed next year according to the surface is a long overdue bonus.
At Wimbledon, where a seeding committee will still decide the women's list for this year, the top 32 players in the men's entry rankings will all be guaranteed a seeding but it will be re-arranged using a system originally suggested by the ATP to reflect grass-court achievements.
So although Pete Sampras, who has won the title a record seven times in the last eight years, is fourth in the year-round list, at Wimbledon he will again be No 1.
Tim Phillips, chairman of The All England Club, said the Slams "all feel this is a sensible solution". He again pointed out the absurdity of Wimbledon sticking to the ranking list. In 1996 that would have made Thomas Muster eligible to be top seed even though he had never won a match in four attempts.
"Last year Pat Rafter (who beat Andre Agassi before losing to Sampras in the final) was ranked 23 and had we not seeded him could have played either Agassi or Sampras in the first round."
He said Wimbledon seeding was all about getting the balance right between the needs of the players and the fans. "The two extreme surfaces in the game are clay and grass. While Wimbledon had the best seeding success record (in terms of the top four reaching the semi-finals) in the last 10 years, the French, without that protection, had the worst."
Phillips, whose next battle will be establishing a third week between the French Open and Wimbledon, said he could understand the feelings of a clay-court player who in the past had been dropped out of the list in favour of a lower ranked player with a better grass-court record.
"There's a strong body of opinion that you must respect the entry system list and some players feel passionately that they've earned the right to be seeded according to that list through their performances during the year. But no serious contenders are going to be left out if you seed 32."
Embarrassed French government officials retracted a statement by the Minister for Sport, Marie-George Buffet, that one player at the French Open, which ended on Sunday, had tested positive for drugs. "She was referring to a case in a previous year," said a spokesman.