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Tennis: Is it quick or slow? Players divided over U.S. Open court speed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The speed of the Arthur Ashe Stadium court at the U.S. Open has been hotly debated over the past few days but among the players, there seems to be no consensus.

Sep 6, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view as the roof above Arthur Ashe Stadium is closed as rain falls in the match between Gael Monfils of France and Lucas Pouille of France on day nine of the 2016 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Gilbert, the former player and ESPN analyst, is convinced the surface is slower than in previous years, something that, in theory, should benefit the likes of Rafael Nadal.

But players tend to be notoriously bad judges of court speed.

“I don’t know,” Nadal said on Monday. “I feel the court is in good conditions to play good tennis. Of course if you ask me what I prefer, I prefer these conditions (hot) than indoor.”

Spain’s Pablo Carreno-Busta, who played on Ashe for the first time on Sunday, said he thought the court surface was similar to the outside courts.

American Coco Vandeweghe said court speed was rarely something she pays attention to and Czech Petra Kvitova even went the other way.

“I do feel that the courts are little bit faster maybe than the past years or last year,” Kvitova said on Sunday after her win over Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.

David Brewer, the U.S. Open tournament director, said the speed on Ashe is the same as the outside courts and that overall, the speed is exactly the same as in previous years.

“Ashe is not slower,” Brewer told Reuters. “We do measurements with our own proprietary tools prior to the tournament and then again after the tournament.

“We do that each year and we’ve done that for about a dozen years now. Our data tells us that the CPR - the Court Pace Rating - is just like any other court on the site right now.”

Brewer, who added that not one player or coach had mentioned anything to him about the surface speed, said the DecoTurf courts at Flushing Meadows, which are resurfaced every year, are generally medium-fast.

Each court speeds up a little during the tournament as the top level of acrylic paint, which contains sand, is worn away by the volume of matches.

Confusion about the speed of courts is not unique to the U.S. Open.

At the Australian Open this year, tournament officials insisted the courts were no faster than the previous year. However, as some courts were re-laid earlier than others, they played faster initially, before they eventually all evened out.

Brewer said all the courts at this year’s U.S. Open were resurfaced within a 30-day window, depending on construction schedules, and said Ashe was re-laid at roughly the same time as the majority of others.

From the type of balls used to the weather -- which was unseasonably cool in the first week and thus made the ball travel slower through the air than in hot temperatures -- there are several factors that can affect conditions.

“Players have their own subjective values of any number of things,” Brewer said.

“It could (be that) they changed their string tension for the day to they had a bad night’s sleep or it is really humid today and it plays a little differently. All that stuff comes into it.”

Even Gilbert, speaking on the eve of the tournament on an ESPN conference call, admitted that weather played a big role.

“I do know one thing, that the court can drastically change… even if it’s a slower court, if it’s 100 degrees, the court is going to play quicker. If it’s 50 degrees at night, it plays considerably slower, and the balls can react to the conditions.”

Editing by Pritha Sarkar