The Mystery of Tennis Balls: Why Do Players Receive 2 Balls Before Serving?

Aiden Starling

Updated Monday, November 13, 2023 at 10:28 PM CDT

The Mystery of Tennis Balls: Why Do Players Receive 2 Balls Before Serving?

The Importance of Tennis Ball Quality

Tennis is a game of precision and strategy, where every small detail can make a significant difference. One such detail that often puzzles spectators is why tennis players receive two balls before serving, only to discard one. Aren't they all the same? And why do they keep one ball in their pocket? Let's dive into the fascinating world of tennis ball selection and the reasons behind this practice.

The Degrading Nature of Tennis Balls

First and foremost, it's crucial to understand that tennis balls degrade quickly during a match. There are two primary factors contributing to this degradation. Firstly, tennis balls are pressurized to be bouncy, allowing for optimal gameplay. However, this pressure gradually decreases over time, leading to a decrease in bounce. Secondly, the balls are covered in felt, which helps them grip the racket better and enhances spin. Unfortunately, the felt also wears down with each stroke, reducing its effectiveness.

The Role of Ball Rotation in Professional Matches

In casual amateur matches, players can get by with one set of balls, or perhaps two for a better quality of play. However, in professional matches, the story is different. The balls used in professional matches are rotated frequently. Typically, a set of balls is used for the first seven games, after which they are swapped every nine games. In a men's three-set match, which requires winning two sets, an average match can consist of 20-40 games or even more. Consequently, players will find themselves swapping balls multiple times throughout the match.

The Art of Ball Selection

Now, let's explore the intriguing process of ball selection. When a player wants to receive balls, they usually signal the ball boy or girl. The player will then handle three or four balls with one hand and carefully examine them. This examination serves a crucial purpose – selecting the balls that they believe will perform best.

During this selection process, players consider various factors such as the smoothness and ruffledness of the felt. A ball with ruffled felt tends to fly through the air slightly slower and grip the court more, making it less effective for a powerful first serve. Therefore, players aim to find the smoothest, least ruffled felt for their first serve ball.

Additionally, players also consider the type of serve they plan to execute. Different serves, such as kick, slice, or flat, require specific ball conditions to maximize their effectiveness. For the second serve, players may even prefer a fuzzier ball to enhance spin and grip, making it harder for their opponent to return.

The Role of Time and Availability

While players could theoretically ask for all six balls available, there are practical limitations. Firstly, time limits before serving restrict the number of balls a player can request. Secondly, the ball kid serving the player may not have every ball at hand after an exchange. However, some players are known to be extra picky and may ask for three balls, return one or two, and then request the remaining ones. Ultimately, the number of balls chosen depends on the preferences and strategies of individual players.

Insights from Tennis Enthusiasts

Reddit user beetus_gerulaitis sheds further light on the topic, explaining that players pocket the ball they want for their second serve while holding the ball they prefer for their first serve. This distinction allows players to optimize their serves based on the condition of the balls. For example, a player may want a fuzzier ball for their second serve to enhance spin and grip, maximizing its effectiveness.

Another user, BurnOutBrighter6, emphasizes that tennis balls are not all the same. Players carefully examine the degree of fuzziness, which varies from ball to ball. The amount of fuzz affects ball speed and the amount of curve it generates for a given amount of spin. Depending on the serving player's goals, they may desire more or less curve for their first and second serves.

The seemingly simple act of receiving and discarding tennis balls before serving holds significant importance in the game. Tennis balls degrade quickly, and players must select the optimal balls for their serves based on factors such as felt smoothness, ruffledness, and desired spin. This strategic ball selection contributes to the overall gameplay and highlights the attention to detail required in the sport of tennis.

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