© Ella Ling

Paris - Nadal

Slower, softer tennis balls helping Rafa Nadal in Paris


Players have to adapt to constantly changing conditions. No, I’m not talking about the newly-released Mario Tennis Open on the Nintendo, where you can choose to have the competitors dashing about a court made of sand, stone, snow and mushrooms (as well as the more conventional options of grass, hard and clay). 

At Roland Garros, the tournament is not the same as it was last spring, as they have changed the balls. This year, the balls are softer, spongier and heavier, so the conditions are just that bit slower on the Parisian clay. Not a huge amount softer, spongier, heavier and slower, but enough to make a difference. And enough for Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic and others to have commented (though there is not universal agreement, as contrarian-in-chief David Nalbandian has suggested that conditions are faster, and Andy Murray said before his first-round match that there is not a huge amount of difference).

The change is not going to attract anything like the same comment that Madrid did after deciding to dye their clay blue, but it could make a significant difference to who ends up winning this event. This is one change to the clay-court swing that Rafael Nadal – who has threatened to skip next year’s Madrid tournament – should be happy with. The slower the conditions, the more likely it is that Nadal will win the tournament.

The French Tennis Federation have not changed to these Babolat balls to help a player who is attempting to win a record seventh title, and a player who happens to be sponsored by Babolat, but because of complaints from the locker-room last year that they had sore elbows and shoulders when the balls were too hard. In an ideal world, the same ball would be used for each part of the season – one for the American hard-court swing, one for the European clay-court season, one for the grass, and so on – but that is unlikely to ever happen because of the agreements that federations and tournaments have in place with ball suppliers. Players are going to have to keep on adapting from one tournament to another, and from one year to another at the same venue.

Two thoughts from Maria Sharapova’s 6-0, 6-0 victory over Romania’s Alexandra Cadantu in the first round. If anyone on Court Philippe Chatrier had a decibel-counter, could they confirm that Sharapova was out-Sharapova’d in the grunting stakes? Two, the result didn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know. Yes, this was as lop-sided as you get. But Sharapova was always likely to win this easily. Sharapova was supposedly ‘sending a message’ to Serena Williams, her projected quarter-final opponent. In all likelihood, this result will have passed Williams by. 

There is a chance that Mardy Fish will return to the tour early next month, at Queen’s Club. Fish disclosed in an interview with USA Today that he thought he has been suffering from a heart condition which led him to wake up at 3 in the morning with his heart-rate up at 180 beats a minute. He subsequently became terrified of sleeping, as he was concerned it might happen again.

“I was completely panicking. I thought I was going to die,” said Fish, who has had treatment for the condition. ‘I couldn’t sleep anywhere but my own bed. I couldn’t sleep alone. It has been so scary. During the day, I was completely fine. I can track it and work out fine. But every time I would go to bed my mind would start racing. is this going to happen tonight? Is this going to be another night like that? It was super hard to go to sleep.”