Deep Dive Series: 1.2 – The History & Evolution Of Tennis Balls

Deep Dive Series: 1.2 – The History & Evolution Of Tennis Balls

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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!

Show Episode Recap:

The Timeline: 2001-Present

2001: The ITF introduces 3 new kinds of balls in an effort to counter the power game in tennis.

  • Ball Type 1 (fast speed): Is identical in size to the standard dimensions of a normal tennis ball, except that the rubber is harder.
  • Ball Type 2 (medium speed): Is simply the standard ball that has been used for decades
  • Ball Type 3 (slow speed): Is 6% larger in diameter than the standard ball and moves slower through the air after contact.  This results in an additional 10% reaction time for the receiving player.

**All are the same weight**

  • A study was conducted by the South Bank University in London which showed players using ball type 3 (the larger ball) could play 35% longer and had improved accuracy.  This allowed for longer rallies as well as a higher level of visibility for both players and spectators.

2011: Roland Garros switched from Dunlop to Babolat tennis balls.

  • Babolat had only been in the tennis ball business for 10 years at that point.
  • Players including Rafael Nadal claimed that the balls bounced higher and played faster.  Babolat claimed that the lack of rain, created a harder and faster surface which was the reason for this seemingly drastic (for tennis balls) change.
  • Babolat now acknowledges that their balls needed adjustments

Questions & Observations:

  • Despite the fact that very few rule changes regarding tennis balls, it seems like there is enough flexibility within those rules to change the speed, bounce and pace of the game that it has an obvious effect on the players.
  • Players know immediately whether a ball’s weight dimensions are even slightly off or different.  Given how many balls they hit daily, pick up, etc. these small, nuanced changes that recreational players probably fail to notice, are obvious.
  • Andy Murray said that it’s more-or-less a fact of life for tennis players.  You go to one tournament and you hit with a Dunlop ball, you go to the next and it’s a Wilson ball, etc.  Each has their own specific properties within the regulations.
  • What are our thoughts on some of these points?  Should there be so much flexibility within the rules that have such a big effect from tournament to tournament?
  • Given the three ball types that are now routinely used, how do we feel about the possibility that tournaments could use one ball or another to help or hurt certain players from winning the tournament?
  • Roger Federer hasn’t made it to the Roland Garros final since 2011 after Babolat took player complaints (I’m guessing sans Federer) and seemingly weighed them down a bit or went to ball type 3 the following year.


  • Wison’s extra-duty tennis balls were introduced in 1960.  They fluff up more and therefore move slower through the air.
  • Roughly 300 million tennis balls are produced each year
  • More than 200 tennis ball brands have been approved by the ITF
  • The most expensive material in the production of a tennis ball is the felt material.
  • Tennis balls are tested in a temperature of 68 degrees, 60% humidity and an atmospheric pressure of 102 kPA