<
>

Dead spot on court before match

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Umpire Kerrilyn Cramer dropped a furry yellow tennis ball on a spot on the second show court at the Australian Open -- and it didn't bounce.

Cramer lifted her arms in a shrug to the crowd and walked off the court.

Maria Sharapova said she had noticed something weird on the spot as she warmed up Friday for her third-round match against Julia Goerges. At first, she thought the cushioning in her left shoe was behaving oddly or that some extra padding had somehow been added to the court.

"All of a sudden I looked down and there was a pretty big bubble there," Sharapova said. "I mentioned it to the umpire and she said she would make the call."

Tournament officials rushed in, surrounding the spot in the service box just in front of the umpire's chair, kneeling to inspect it and swiping their hands across the bulge. After much discussion, they called in a technician with a cordless power drill to put a couple holes in the rubberized surface. Problem solved, the match went on.

"This afternoon during the warm-up for the last match on Hisense Arena a slight rise in the court surface was noticed," tournament referee Wayne McKewen said in a statement later.

"The warm-up was halted for several minutes while the area was repaired. I, along with other tournament officials, then assessed playing conditions and deemed the court fit for play," he said.

The problem, he said, was that moisture from recent rains had gathered under the court's Plexicushion layer, evaporated as temperatures rose Friday and caused a pocket of vapor that lifted part of the surface.

Sharapova, the 2008 Australian Open champion, left the court as officials studied the mysterious problem area, while Goerges sat waiting in a court-side chair.

Cramer's court test prompted laughter in the stands and cheers for the burly drill-wielding worker.

The Russian former No. 1 said the problem did not disrupt her game -- she beat the unseeded Goerges 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 -- but said later that the scene was not funny.

"Maybe it was comical to you, it wasn't really comical to us. We warmed up and had to sit and wait for a while," she said. "They took care of it pretty fast."