Deep Dive Series: 1.1 – The History & Evolution Of Tennis Balls

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Deep Dive Series: 1.1 – The History And Evolution Of Tennis Balls

Podcast Series Summary:

The “Deep Dive” series is our chance to give you a more thorough examination and understanding regarding a tennis-related subject or question that we find interesting.  The range of topics we cover can be both large and small in scale.  Fun what-if scenarios, book reviews, controversial topics as well as examinations of historical moments and their impact on both the game and culture, are just some of the possibilities that we have in store for you in this special patron-only series, which you can only get by subscribing to Freaking Geeks Media on

Each “Deep Dive” subject we tackle will be broken down into two-three separate episodes, with each covering one aspect of the topic in question.  Each episode will be in the 20-40 minute range, with the series coming in at one and a half hours to two hours in total, depending on if we need more or less time to do a thorough discussion.

We hope that you like these patron-only episodes.  We at the Tennis Addict Podcast and Freaking Geeks Media, continually strive to produce excellent content on this game that we all love!

Podcast Series Summary:

In this episode, we reach back hundreds of years ago when tennis was in it’s infancy. Also in it’s infancy was the tennis balls themselves. We trace their evolution from sacks stuffed with wool and hair, to what we have today and everything in between.

Show Episode Recap:

Timeline: 15th Century to New Millenium

15th Century: The first tennis balls were created using leather stuffed with wool

  • 1844: Charles Goodyear created “vulcanized rubber” or called India Rubber.  It is a process whereby natural rubber is altered by adding sulfur or other curing additives which results in more durable materials.
  • 1870’s: India Rubber which was used to create tennis balls lead to increased bounciness. This grew lawn tennis as a sport and ultimately the modern game.
  • 1882: John Heathcote decided that the ball was simply too light, so he put some flannel on it to help weight it down.
  • 1882-1920: For years, balls were called “Clover-leaf” Balls due to their construction based on the clover-leaf principal.  Uncured rubber sheets were stamped into a three-leaf clover shape, which was then assembled into a sphere by a machine.  The hollowed out ball was then filled with pressurized gas.  This process was eventually replaced with to two half-shells which are then sealed together to produce a core and filled with gas.  This also allowed a uniformity for wall-thickness. Melton cloth replaced flannel as the cover on tennis balls.  Melton cloth has a high wool content
  • 1920-1971:  Pressure-less tennis balls were created.  They lacked gas-filled cores, and started off somewhat dead, but would bounce higher as the rubber softenened over time.
  • 1925: The ITF (International Tennis Federation) created a specific rule stating that tennis balls must bounce between 53-58 inches when dropped from a height of 100 inches.  That regulation has never changed.
  • 1972:  Up until 1972, tennis balls were white, but it was deemed that yellow tennis balls were more easily picked up on television and thus were introduced by the ITF
  • 1986:  Wimbledon remained the only yellow-ball holdout before eventually dropping the white in favor of the yellow
  • 1989:  High altitude balls were approved
  • 1996:  Other properties of the tennis ball have changed over time. The range of forward and return deformations – the change in the ball’s diameter under an increasing and decreasing load of 8.165 kg – have varied over the years, reaching their current values in 1996.

Other modern rules include:

  • The standard tennis ball must have a diameter between 2.575 Inches and 2.677
  • A standard tennis ball must weight between 2 ounces and 2.06 ounces
  • Tennis balls are pressurized to 12 pounds per square inch