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Stosur, Ferrer Advance at French Open With New, Bouncy Balls

Samantha Stosur, last year’s losing finalist at the French Open, opened the clay-court tennis tournament with a straight-sets victory today over Iveta Benesova.

Playing with a new ball brand, the Australian won 6-2, 6-3 in the first match of the day on the main Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros in Paris. No. 7 David Ferrer of Spain also moved to the second round, beating Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

The French Open is using balls made by French company Babolat, which earlier this year became the official ball and racket string supplier of the world’s only clay-court major through 2015. The tournament was played with Dunlop balls last year. Dunlop also provided the balls at the main Roland Garros warm-up events in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome this season.

“They’re still pretty bouncy even this morning when it’s not too lively out there and the sun isn’t beating down quite as much as in the afternoon,” Stosur told reporters. “It still gets up high and you can really kind of manipulate it how you want.”

Stosur, seeded eighth, overwhelmed Benesova with top-spin-laden ground strokes and high-bouncing kick-serves from the start. Stosur secured her fourth win over Benesova in as many meetings as the Czech dumped a forehand into the net on match point.

Cilic Loses

Croatia’s Marin Cilic, the No. 19 seed, lost to Spain’s Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo in straight sets, and 17th seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France beat Jan Hajek of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Stanislas Wawrinka, the No. 14 seed from Switzerland, advanced against France’s Augustin Gensse in four sets. Former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia withdrew from the tournament today with an ankle injury.

Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, the No. 10 seed, and Tsvetana Pironkova, the No. 32 seed from Bulgaria, were straight-sets winners, while Spain’s Maria Jose Martinez beat No. 19 Shahar Peer of Israel 7-6 (7-4), 6-1. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, at No. 34 the highest-ranked American woman in the draw in the absence of injured Serena and Venus Williams, overcame Spain’s Arantxa Parra Santonja in three sets. Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, the 2009 champion seeded 13th, beat Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia, 6-2, 6-3.

‘Quite Different’

The Babolat balls may benefit strong servers, Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic told a news conference before the start of the tournament.

“The balls are quite different,” said Djokovic, who’s won 37 straight matches to start the season. “They are very, very fast, so it’s really difficult to control. Maybe it’s going to favor the servers and the big hitters.”

Babolat spokeswoman Annie Coghill said the French company had done “intense testing” on its balls and that the final product was approved by the French tennis federation (FFT).

“Babolat developed the balls to meet the precise requirements provided by the FFT,” she said in an e-mail today.

French Open organizers blamed the weather for the players’ concerns. All laboratory tests found the balls are similar to ones used in previous years. What’s different is that it hasn’t rained in Paris for two months, tournament official Christophe Hayaux du Tilly said in an e-mail.

Top Ranking

Djokovic will take over the top spot in the world rankings from Rafael Nadal if he makes the final or if the Spaniard fails to win the title. The Serb, who plays Thiemo De Bakker of the Netherlands tomorrow, is second to Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic this season on the ATP World Tour with 89 percent of his service games won.

Grand Slam record holder Roger Federer, the 2009 French Open champion, doesn’t mind the new balls used in Paris.

“The change of balls, I’ve got used to that,” the third-ranked Swiss, who faces Spain’s Feliciano Lopez tomorrow, told a news conference. “The balls are faster, indeed. It might be a bit difficult in the beginning, but in the end, they’re not that fast.”

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