Why tennis players pick and choose from different balls?


I can’t find any real explanation for this. Are there different balls? Some harder, some faster… or is it just a habit from players?

In: 56

Some balls will have more fuzz, more bounce, etc. No matter how uniform the production, there’s always some variance in the end product and this becomes even more true once they start to get used. These small differences give them slightly different properties and when you play enough of a sport you start to notice minor things about equipment and develop preferences. Some of it might be habit or superstition, but much of it is just picking a ball that you feel will behave the way you want.

In general for a first serve they want a brand new ball or a less used ball so it has more bounce and is faster when hit.

For a second serve they want more fuzz which generates more topspin due to more air resistance which makes it more reliable and not as likely to go out and also gives it a more unpredictable flight path.

Not everyone is picky, like serena. But at the top 0.001% everything matters.

Considering the amount of force tennis balls get hit with, there is a huge difference in quality between brand new balls and ones that have been knocked around for 7-9 games (when they get replaced in ATP tournaments). So players can take advantage of this difference in their serving strategy to get a slight edge over their opponent. New balls will be more aerodynamic and give you more speed. Used ones will generate more spin due to deformations in the fuzz.

While it is true that different balls will have different properties, the reason that you see professional tennis players pick a ball (or two) and throw remaining balls back to the ball boys is that doing so is part of their service routine.

Each professional tennis player has a routine they go through between points to help them review their play (what’s working and isn’t), reset themselves physically and emotionally before the next point, and ensure consistency in service from one point to the next.

For more information on the service ritual: https://www.usta.com/en/home/improve/tips-and-instruction/national/improve-your-tennis-game–develop-a-serve-ritual.html#:~:text=Your%20service%20ritual%20can%20be,sense%20of%20control%20and%20focus.

Somewhat a habit, but there is a real difference in the “fuzziness” of different balls, and a real difference in how balls behave based on their fuzziness. That means a different ball may be “best” based on how much curve you want, or don’t want, etc. It’s understood that there’s probably a slight actual advantage, plus the mental/confidence boost that comes from feeling you’ve chosen the perfect ball. That said, there are a few pros that never reject balls and always use the first one – so maybe it’s more mental after all.

Here’s a 5 minute video from Vox called “[What Tennis Pros Look At When They Choose a Ball](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChzL17zV9hA)” that breaks down the science, plus interview clips from some top players and coaches.