Are you a passionate tennis player? Regardless of whether you are at the beginning of your tennis journey or you are a pro, have you stopped to wonder how much of an impact the sports equipment you use has on the final outcome of the game? Well, the truth is, you shouldn’t take it for granted especially if you expect to carry the trophy.
Now that we`ve set the tone for today and tackled a bit of what you`ll read, it is only fair to reveal that we won`t speak about what you`ve expected (tennis shoes, or racquets) but instead we will explain a bit about tennis balls. Although beginners don’t give as much credit as they should (they all look the same, right?), pro players already know the massive effect they can have on a game (make it or break it); and if you are a beginner too, no worries, we got you covered. We`ve gathered the most important tennis balls related information for you. Read on to find about everything you need to know.
About Tennis Balls
As we previously mentioned, if you are a beginner the process of choosing a tennis ball might be overwhelming and rather confusing since there are a lot of variations on the market. Shockingly The International Tennis Federation has approved more than two hundred manufacturers/brands of tennis balls. And as if this wasn’t enough, they all produce all sorts of versatile tennis balls distinctive to fit a certain degree of expertise and preferences of the players.
So a short trip to the nearest sports store to get some tennis balls equals a storm of questions:
What is with the different colors of the tennis ball? How can you tell about their differences? Do you need to consider your expertise level? Does the court surface matters when you are choosing the ball itself? What are the fastest tennis balls? How about the term “elbow ease tennis ball”, what does it mean?
With more than 17, 9 million players scattered all across the globe, numerous tournaments on almost every continent, and worldwide popular players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Serena Williams, tennis is the fourth most popular sport in the world. When we are talking in numbers, for one tournament only such as the ATP World Tour Finals, more than 70, 000 tennis balls are used. Now when we put together the four main Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open) on top of the accompanying tournaments and players which are practicing daily, you do realize the scale of annually needed tennis balls.
So, a question arises:
How are Tennis Balls produced?
Up until recently, most of the tennis balls on the market were manufactured in Europe and USA but nowadays, it`s no secret that they are produced in the Far East where labor costs and raw materials are much cheaper. In the simplest way possible, we will try to explain the production process of the tennis balls.
The story of the tennis balls begins deep in the rubber “forest” in Thailand from which the highest quality of natural rubber is gathered and brought into factories in bales of 70-250 lbs. Then a variety of powders and chemicals are added to it in order to give the rubber its required properties. Afterward, the rubber is kneaded to get the proper consistency and softness.
Next, from the rubber compound which is headed and extruded (like squeezing toothpaste from a tube) rubber rod is formed and then cut into rubber pellets which are afterward cooled down.
From the pellets, with the help of a hydraulic press (2 ½ minutes at 150⁰) hemispherical halves are formed. Then the half-shells seams are buffed and adhesive (vulcanizing rubber solution) is also applied.
Inflating and properly pressurizing the core of the ball is one of the most important things when we are talking about tennis balls in general and it can be done in one of two ways. The first way is a chemical one where the inflation occurs after the core has been assembled and the second one is the compressed-air inflation method. Most commonly the second method is used. It includes two halves being combined to create a core while being in a compressed air chamber (18psi) for an eight-minute period (after this the core is cooled down and its internal pressure drops to 15psi). After the core is finally formed, the next step is prepping for felt. This includes roughening the surface of the core so that the adhesive would stick better to it.
Next step is covering the core with fabric. Most commonly there are two types of fabrics used in making tennis balls: Melton cloth (two-thirds wool and one-third nylon), and Needle cloth (cheaper synthetic material). The chosen cloth is cut into a “dog-bone” shaped and dipped in glue on one side. Two of these “dogbone” pieces are glued to the core (11-minute process with heat) which is also dipped in glue. Next thing is smoothening the seam and removing any lumps or wrinkles. Finally, the newly produced tennis balls are given a steam bath (put in a machine called the “fluffer”) which causes the cloth to fluff, are inspected, and then stamped with a proper logo.
By the end of this entire process, the tennis balls have a 12-14 psi, but since rubber compounds are permeable to gas, this pressure is gradually lost (specifically within a few months). This is the reason why pressurized tennis balls are packed and soled into pressurized cans.
If you were indeed carefully reading the manufacturing process of tennis balls, chances are you`ve noticed we`ve explained how pressurized tennis balls are produced. This fact does mean that there are non-pressurized tennis balls as well. Although there are not so popular nor commonly used, in addition, we will explain the advantages and specification in both of the types.
Pressurized vs. Non-Pressurized Tennis Balls
The first and most important difference between these two types of tennis balls lies within their “filling”. As we`ve explained the pressurized balls are simply rubber core with fuzzy covering filled with pressurized air while the non-pressurized tennis balls instead of pressurized air are filled with rubber (solid rubber core).
Pressurized tennis balls
This type of tennis balls are the most commonly used ones and usually come packed in a can of three. Besides being pressurized on the inside, they are also packed in a pressurized can which helps in maintaining their inside pressure (once you pop the can and start using the canned three balls, they start losing their pressure).
In the world of tennis they are largely preferred hence of a number of reasons all caused by the pressure inside them:
- More Bounce – (when they first come out of the can, pressurized balls feel more “live”)
- More Spin Response
- More Speed (hence of the empty core they have less mass meaning they are lighter and therefore travel faster)
Although these characteristics sound great, unfortunately, they are short-lived. It is estimated that in about two to four weeks of opening the pressurized can, the pressurized balls become pretty much unplayable. The rubber core is permeable, meaning the pressurized air diminishes leaving the balls “dead” or “wooden”. They lose their bounce, speed, and spin. This is the main reason why so many tennis balls are used during world famous tournaments where every game matters (the tennis balls are changed after every nine games).
Non-Pressurized Tennis Balls
On the other hand, as we explained, no pressurized tennis balls (their core) is filled with a specific type of rubber. In translation, this means that you can`t expect too much from them (their bounciness relies on the rubber itself). They have the “dead” feel from the start.
However, over time as the rubber on the inside softens and the fabric on the outside wears out, they tend to become a bit more bouncy but at the same time, they lose their spin response. Now don`t expect too much, they will never become as bouncy as the pressurized tennis balls. Rubber filled core also means one more thing, they are heavier in weight meaning you will need more force to hit them. Although this might not sound like such a big thing, long termly in might make all the difference in the world especially when we are talking about pain-free tennis play (avoiding injuries).
Commonly non-pressurized tennis balls are used by beginners or with machine practices.
Levels: Recreational, Championship, and Professional
Your level of expertise (how advanced your game is) and the purpose of the tennis balls, should be the first two things that come into your mind when thinking about purchasing some tennis balls. Wondering why?
Nowadays, tennis balls manufacturers are mainly producing three different types of tennis balls depending on the people`s level of expertise:
- Recreational Level Balls (this is the best option for people who are just starting to practice tennis and are getting used to the game; non-pressurized balls)
- Championship level Balls (this type of balls is used by intermediate tennis players who are already good at tennis, junior`s tournaments and daily practice plays; they are pressurized but have standard quality and a lower pressure when compared to the professional balls)
- Professional Level Balls (as the name itself says, this type of balls is used only by the best professional players in the world who aim to have the greatest control, precision, and power when playing; pressurized balls which they have premium high-quality and high-level of pressure)
What does this mean for you as a player?
If you are at the beginning of your tennis journey, you definitely won`t need a ball which will surprise you with exceptional bounce and speed. Instead, you will need an enjoyable and predictable tennis ball which will allow you to practice your skills and learn the rules and this can be found in non-pressurized balls with a soft rubber core. They are bouncy yet not as nearly as the pressurized ones, which makes them ideal for beginners.
If you are a passionate regular player who wants to spend hours on end training tennis then, in this case, durability is the key factor. The tennis balls you choose should last as long as possible. The most resistant tennis balls on the market are the non-pressurized balls with a hard core. You can commonly see them piled up in your tennis instructor`s basket.
On the other side of non-pressurized balls are, of course, the pressurized ones. As you know, they are superior when we`re talking about speed, bounce, and spin. Although they are more expensive and less expensive, they remain the primal choice for many players across the globe.
For Beginners and Kids
Tennis balls manufacturers have even gone a step further by inventing a variety of beginners and kids tennis balls. They`ve specially created these three types which are appropriate for slower play. In order to make them visually distinguishable from the common yellow balls, they`ve designed them to be in three different colors which also symbolize certain specifications.
- Foam Tennis Balls. This type of tennis balls is the first in the series of Kids/ Beginners Balls. Manufactured from foam, they are largest but lightest and are the first step to children which are eight or under that age. However, hence of their lightweight, they are not suitable for playing in windy conditions.
- Stage 3 (Red): The red type of balls are specifically designed for people or children (up to the age of 8 or maybe even younger) who are just starting out their tennis journey. In this phase, the accent is put on getting that fundamental skills such as movement, coordination and above all- fun and confidence. This type of balls are appropriate for playing on 36-foot court format, they have 25% the bounce level of a standard tennis ball, and are slightly bigger than the regular tennis balls.
- Stage 2 (Orange): Orange tennis balls have the same standard size but do travel 50% slower. Suitable for children between the age of nine and ten, this Stage two level introduces children to playing on a ¾ length tennis court. This allows them to slowly but reassuringly focus on their speed while establishing their prior learned skills.
- Stage 1 (Green): Prior to moving on to play tennis, this is the last stage and it includes playing with a 25% more graduals ball than the regular one on a full-scale tennis court. This step allows children and beginners to focus on improving their technique. They are suitable for children who are 11 or older.
Tennis Courts and Types of Tennis Balls
Nevertheless, if you are a beginner or a pro, you are probably aware there are different types of tennis courts, each and every with its very own “charm”, excitement, speed, and style of play. From the type of the tennis court itself literally depends everything: the ball`s speed, spin, and even the player`s ability to move around the court. This whole “court thing” goes to that measure that even players hence of their specific style of playing tend to choose a certain court in which they will dominate. This way Rafael Nadal held the reputation as “the kind of the clay” while Federer is considered “unbeatable in grass”.Currently, there are four types of tennis courts and we`ve gathered the most important information about them and additionally added all the tennis balls related info too.
- Grass Courts
Unfortunately, grass tennis courts are not that common especially when we are talking about everyday tennis plays and practices simply because they are too difficult to maintain. The most popular Grand Slam tournament held on grass is held in the United Kingdom and known as Wimbledon. If you are willing to try playing on grass, you should know that the surface is slippery which ultimately makes the ball bounce faster and lower to the ground.
- Clay Courts
Clay Tennis Courts are more commonly seen in Europe and South America and although the name itself says “clay” they are made of crushed brick or metabasalt. Comparatively to the world famous Grand Slam held on grass- Wimbledon, French Open is the most popular clay tournament. On clay, the tennis ball acts completely opposite than the way it acts on the grass. On the clay tennis courts, it bounces higher and slower which allows strong baseline players to dominate. Additionally, the clay surfaces allows attractive slides and hitting the ball with still in motion.
- Hard Courts
This type of court is made of concrete or asphalt and then covered with acrylic material. The remaining two Grand Slams (The US Open and The Australian Open) are played on such surfaces. On this surface, the ball bounces relatively high and fast (a bit slower than it does on grass) but however, the game is easier to control hence of the predictable trajectory of the ball.
- Synthetic, Carpet (Removable Court Covering), or Indoor Courts
When we are talking about these three types of surfaces, we can say that they can be made out of various materials and have different texture and thickness. On these surfaces, the ball tends to bounce fast and low to the ground. However, they`ve been banned from professional tournaments such as the Grand Slams.
The ball bounces higher and slower
The ball bounces lower and faster
Suitable for Baseline players
Suitable for players playing on the net
As you can tell from the four types of tennis courts and the way the tennis ball acts on them, the need for different tennis balls according to the surface arises. Because of this, manufacturers invented four different types of tennis balls:
- Regular Duty Balls or so-called “soft court” balls are suitable for clay courts. From the table above, we can tell that the clay courts are considered as slow ones meaning the tennis balls travels slowly meaning it absorbs more clay (becoming heavier in weight). Regular Duty balls are specifically designed with a thinner felt tightly woven around the ball`s core which will ultimately prevent the ball from losing its integrity.
- Extra Duty Tennis Balls are designed for outdoor hard-courts (and sometimes grass). They are made in such a way that they have more fuzz (wool) on them thus they are longer lasting and more durable.
- Grass Court Tennis Balls are just like the regular duty balls but they undergo additional stain resistant treatment in order to become prone to the grass stains and color changes because of it.
Furthermore, The International Tennis Federation mandates three types of tennis balls according to the type of surface and for that purpose, they`ve used numbers for better identification.
- Type 1 (this type of tennis balls is used for playing on slow surfaces such as clay; the ball itself is slightly harder and purposely faster; this “trick” allows more dynamic play on slow surfaces)
- Type 2 (this is the standard type and most-commonly used for medium-paced courts; for example, such surfaces are acrylic and carpet)
- Type 3 (this type of tennis ball is made larger and intentionally slower and it is used for faster courts such as grass and artificial turf)
Additionally, there is a type of tennis ball specifically designed for high altitudes. It is considered that everything about 4, 000 feet and 4, 000 feet to be a high altitude. Furthermore, some manufacturers have gone a step beyond and invented extra durable pressurized tennis balls. In order to extend their life-span, they`ve started placing a synthetic rubber coating on the inside of the rubber core itself in order to minimize the pressured air leakages. Last but not least, we must also mention the tennis ball invented to minimize the common tennis elbow symptoms (a medical issue which haunts many tennis players across the globe).
As you can tell from everything we`ve mentioned above, choosing a tennis ball and playing with the right kind of type might make all the difference in the world.
Nowadays on the market, there are hundreds of different types, however, what matters most is choosing a ball ideal for the type of tennis you intend on playing.
This about whether you are a beginner or not, how much do you want the tennis balls to last, how important is the fast-paced game to you, and most importantly the type of surface you will be playing on.
Once you do take everything into consideration, we assure you-you will have your answer and the appropriate tennis ball in your hand!