Tennis Balls Are Pretty Darn Complicated

All balls are not created equal, and evidently that goes double for the little fuzzy yellow ones. Over at SI, training reporter Tim Newcomb takes a deep dive on what makes tennis balls so unique, and comes up with some interesting stuff.

“It is funny that balls are not spoken about, but they have a massive impact on a tournament and a player,” says David Taylor, coach of former U.S. Open Champion Sam Stosur. “Some find it very difficult [to adapt to changes from tournament to tournament.] The first thing we do when we get to the tournament is work out what tension [the racket] will be with that ball.”

Taylor goes on to say that he would support a sport-wide standard mandating specific tennis balls, but although that approach seems to have been accepted for the men’s Masters tournaments, expansion does not seem to be imminent. There are simply too many variables for which to account, and nearly every player has their own specific preferences.

Taylor knows the differences inside and out and says the players do too. He says every player he’s coached has felt more comfortable with a certain type of ball compared to others. Stosur, for example, enjoys the Penn ball, an American brand, and the Dunlop Four, which Taylor says is “known as the world’s most consistent ball.”

Regardless, the sport has come a long way from tennis balls made of covered cork or, more impressively, knotted animal stomachs. It’s difficult to complain about the way a ball gets fluffy when you’re facing a player who uses a lot of spin, or the effects of warm weather and a clay court on a ball’s speed, knowing that, at the very least, you’re not smashing a goat’s gut with your racket. Nevertheless, standardization seems a long way off, and some players just like it that way.