Was there an element of the bad workman blaming his tools as Dan Evans grumbled about “balls you wouldn’t give a dog to chew” after losing to Kei Nishikori?
Perhaps, but then Evans is not the first man to get stuck into the French Open’s new Wilson balls. On Friday night, no less an expert than Rafael Nadal complained that their extra size and weight – as compared to the old Babolats – would be “dangerous for the elbow and the shoulders”.
Throughout this five-set match, Evans kept shaking balls by his ear and throwing the ones that displeased him to umpire Renaud Lichtenstein, who then hid them away in his pockets. After Nishikori had sealed his 1-6, 6-1, 7-6, 1-6, 6-4 victory in 3hr 49min, you half expected Lichtenstein to stagger down from the chair, groaning under the weight of all the rejects.
Tennis professionals are hugely sensitive to even the slightest shift in conditions and equipment, often claiming that individual courts at the same venue play differently. And in the case of the new Wilson balls, any discrepancy has only been magnified by the eight-degree temperatures and light drizzle that made this such an unappetising first day.
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“Maybe they got it a little wrong with the balls,” said Evans. “It's tough to get that ball to go anywhere. We’re in what month, September, October? That ball's a bit too heavy, I think.”
It should be remembered, though, that when the Babolat balls were first introduced here in 2011, nobody liked them at first either. Nadal and Novak Djokovic – the two most successful male players here over the ensuing nine years – both argued that they were too hard and bouncy.
For all his objections on Sunday, Evans still played his part in one of the most entertaining matches of the day. Between them, he and Nishikori came to the net just over a hundred times. And when you add in both men’s facility with slices, lobs and drop-shots, no two rallies felt the same.
“To be honest, it was actually quite a good little atmosphere on the court,” said Evans. “There was a little pocket of Japanese guys and girls who were from the tournament playing. The same with the Brits. I think a few spectators from the public were there.
“I thought today was a high-quality one,” Evans added. “He's a class player, so it's extra difficult to put someone like him away. Once you get to the fifth set, it's a really tough situation to be in. Every point is so magnified, you need to win them. It's disappointing that I didn't. Now I have to move on and get ready for the indoor hard courts.”