Q. With most of the top players going to their bag for a new racquet upon the introduction of new balls, what happens when a ball is miss-hit into the stands? Are new balls put in or do the ball handlers go short?
A. You are referring to a fan-friendly initiative that was established for the 2005 US Open. On the three stadium courts, when a ball bounces or flies into the crowd, the fan that catches the ball gets to keep it.
These balls are replaced at the end of that particular game. Prior to the match, the umpire walks on court with a bag full of balls that have been worn to varying degrees. If a one-game old ball is hit into the crowd it will be replaced with a newer ball than if an eight-game old ball is lost.
Q. Just wanted to know what the pros look for in a ball when they pick up three balls and look at them, then choose two before they serve.
A. Generally, players try to choose the ball with the least amount of fluff on it. That way, when they serve, it travels through the air faster. However, some baseline retrievers might look for the fluffiest (or heaviest) ball to slow down a powerful opponent. Lastly, sometimes players are just trying to gather their thoughts, and they use the ritual of finding a “lucky” ball to slow themselves down between points.
Remember, at the professional level, six new balls are switched after the first seven games (and the five-minute warm-up) and then every nine games thereafter.
Q. Before serving, I noticed most of the professionals examine multiple tennis balls before they pick two. What are they looking for, and why?
A. For some players this may simply be an idle pre-point ritual. While they fiddle with the balls, they are actually focused entirely on what they need to try to do in order to win the next point. For others, it is a case of them choosing the balls that will best suit them. For example, a big server will look for the least-worn (newest) ball, so that it flies through the air fastest. Conversely, a baseline “grinder” might seek worn, fluffy balls to slow the pace of play a little. Lastly, some players are simply superstitious and they are looking for the “lucky ball” or, perhaps, the ball they used to win the last point.
Q. After how many games do they give out new balls?
A. During most sanctioned USTA tournaments, you start with one can of balls and then only after splitting sets do you get three “fresh” balls for the third set.
If you are talking about during professional matches, then balls are switched after the first seven games (because the warm-up counts as two games of “use”) and then every nine games thereafter. Six balls are used at all times during Tour matches.
By the way, I strongly advocate that recreational players use six balls when they play as well, because less time will be spent chasing down stray balls and players will get to hit more balls per hour on-court.
Q. A friend of mine had a Golf magazine and it stated that maybe the PGA needs to make the pro golfers use a different ball than the common player due to the distances a pro golfer can hit a normal golf ball. The article stated that in Tennis it is a well known fact that the pro tournaments use a different ball than what the common player would use because the pros would hit the normal ball much to fast. Is this true?
A. No. This is false.
Sometimes the women use a different (regular duty felt) ball than do the men (extra duty felt) during hard court tournaments. In fact, this occurs at the US Open. This is designed to “speed up” the women’s game and to “slow down” the men’s game, if only marginally. But, no… the balls that professional players use in tournaments can be purchased over the counter.
Q. Recently, I was in an argument with my neighbor because he said the tennis balls for women's matches at the US Open were actually lighter and smaller. He said that it was to help "speed" the play of the ball and the matches. Is this true? - I have watched many professional matches and I have never heard that.
A. I am not sure that I would categorize the balls as being lighter or smaller, but your neighbor is generally correct. The women use regular duty felt balls while the men play with extra-duty felt during the US Open. If his facts are a little off, at least his reasoning is accurate. This selection was designed to increase the ball speed in women’s game and to slow down the velocity of the balls in the men’s game.
Q. The pros always look at a few balls before rejecting one when they're about to serve. What are they looking for? Why would they choose one over another?
A. New balls are used after the first seven games, and then after nine games, during professional matches. Hard servers like the newest balls because they tend to fly through the air faster before their knap gets all fuzzy. On the other side of the coin, I believe that defensive baseliners actually seek the biggest and fluffiest balls- which is the opposite of big servers. Some players ask for the same “lucky” ball with which they just won the last point. And still some others might examine balls before serving as a part of their pre-point ritual.
So, there are lots of explanations but finding the “newest” ball is the most common reason.
Q. If I freeze a tennis ball before a match, will it improve my game?
A. Ahhh, I doubt it.
Although, you might have recognized that some tournaments- notably Wimbledon- keep the cans of tennis balls refrigerated prior to opening them for matches. Presumably, this is to help the playability of the balls. We do NOT practice this at the US Open.