SAP Open losers are just speed bumps 

Tennis has a storied history of marathon matches that take on epic proportions as games build — think Andre Agassi defeating James Blake in five sets at the 2005 U.S. Open or Bjorn Borg surviving John McEnroe in the 1981 Wimbledon final.

The sport also has its breezier moments, as recently evidenced by Serena Williams’ 6-1, 6-2 waxing of Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final that barely lasted an hour.

The dichotomy is what makes the game so unique (and ticket purchasing a thoroughly considered acquisition) — you could be getting a lengthy battle of the wills, or a one-sided walk in the park.

Monday’s morning session of the SAP Open at HP Pavilion was a display of the latter of the two scenarios, as all four singles matches lasted the minimum two sets and three of those were done in under an hour.

Hard-hitting Croatian Ivo Karlovic’s 6-3, 7-6 (7) win over an ailing Guillermo Garcia-Lopez was the only match with considerable drama — and consequently the only one that managed to last past the 60-minute mark.

The other singles matches were exhibitions in dominance, as Simon Greuhl pasted American hopeful Robert Kendrick 6-3, 6-2, Kristian Pless cruised past Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky 7-5, 6-1 and Yen-Hsun Lu coasted by Brian Wilson 6-1, 6-2.

One explanation for the quick results could be the revamped playing surface at HP Pavilion, which underwent renovations from last year to pick up the court’s speed.

The playing court is made up of a mix of acrylics, paint and sand (shipped in specially from Monterey) that combine to give the court a gritty yet flexible composition.

The relatively simple mixture, totaling a quarter-inch, is laid out on top of the concrete floor of the HP Pavilion in five coats — two prep colors produced in Baltimore and three layers of acrylics and sand that rest atop the base.

Unlike last year, when sand was evident in all three topcoats, this year’s surface contains sand only in two of the layers, which gives the court a less frictional top.

"The change moved the play from medium-slow from last year to medium speed this year," tournament director Bill Rapp said. "I think today’s quick results had more to do with the player matchups than with the surface. The move was designed to make the play more even for everyone."

Lu, who played in the SAP Open two years ago, said he noticed an increase in the ball speed from his last appearance in the tournament.

"I think it’s a little bit faster and the ball is bouncing a little lower," said Lu, the top-ranked player in Taiwan and 90th internationally.

Inevitably, the most probable explanation for the short matches comes down to the competitors — two of thefour first-round losers (Wilson and Stakhovsky) on Monday were qualifiers for the event and Garcia-Lopez, a Spaniard ranked 70th, was suffering from severe flu symptoms that hampered his performance against Karlovic.

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Will Reisman

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