The History Of Tennis Balls: From White To Yellow

tennis ball history

Every time you watch a tennis match, you probably take the balls for granted. But have you ever wondered where they came from? Or how they’ve evolved over the years? Today, we’re taking a closer look at the history of tennis balls. Keep reading to learn more!

Quick History Overview

Did you know that tennis balls are not regular balls and they have gone through a huge journey that goes back for about 700 years or even more? The first game was held in France in the 12th century and the first name given to it was “tanez” which means to take hold. It was like a metaphor that showed an attitude of “get out of my face and leave” because at that time France was having a war with England.

 Then the game was called “real tennis” and the name “tennis” was derived in modern times. Real tennis was then initiated in the 1400s, it was a source of entertainment for kings in England and was known to be the sport of kings. The matches were held in an oval-shaped court, and the scoring system was astonishing to most of the players as they would get really confused in the beginning. They used weird-looking rackets and a ball that could not bounce.

 In those times, balls were not manufactured instead they were handcrafted. Cork was used for making the core of the ball then they used another fabric to tightly tie around the cork the last layer would consist of a hand-sewn woolen cloth. This is just one way of how the balls were made, but since back then In Europe, there was no standardized technique of making balls so people used whatever they wanted to for the core layer even animal intestines!

Advancing the tennis balls:

As tennis started becoming popular, the ball’s quality was being considered. So in France by 1480, Louis XI banned the use of sand, sawdust, or chalk, and he is a tennis buff himself, he gave the order of making the balls with proper care and material. He wanted people to make use of genuine leather or wool and not just anything random like animal intestines. While England passed an act to stop tennis balls from being imported.

By the 18th century, tennis had become very popular among the Germans, and it was enjoyed thoroughly in Germany. The Germans were also pro in producing air-filled vulcanized balls. This led to a significant change in England and lawn tennis replaced real tennis as the game.

 Some pro tennis players from England, such as Harry Gem and Augurio Perera started to import balls from Germany. The balls produced in Germany had no top covering, and they were light grey or red in color, but then john Moyer who is an English barrister he suggested that the top of the ball must be covered with a flannel. And then these balls started to get manufactured in a small town called Melton Mowbray. This was somewhat the beginning of modern balls that we see today.

Where did the tennis ball originate?

Lawn tennis arose in Britain through the efforts of Walter Clopton Wingfield and Harry Gem, who developed a way to play with bigger balls on more spacious courts. They marketed their new sport by providing sets that included rubber imported from Germany for a better grip-using experience.

The Early 1870s were an exciting time as many advancements emerged; one such advancement was Lawn Tennis which had its inception around this period after being invented.

A twist in the story:

Everything was going smoothly and tennis was becoming widely practiced, until japan attacked Pearl Harbor. This badly injured the tennis market, as 90% rubber was being sent for war priorities, which halted tennis ball production. 

Tennis players started to rush to the stores to re stock their balls as there would be no tennis balls left. All the ball manufacturers went into the research and development of new kind of balls which did not require crude rubber. Soon after that a “victory ball” was introduced to the market that was made using rubber with black seams. It was a great alternate to the original rubber balls, but it had a few drawbacks; it was 20% more expensive, it had a six inch lower bounce, and looked less lively too.

Then the balls were further advanced with the concept of storing them in pressurized cans which is an airtight cylindrical metal tube. This was a big step taken by the Pennsylvania ball company which made balls using recycled rubber. The balls were known to be “pen balls”

The tennis balls that we see today:

The modern ball went through an evolution, it was great historical achievement especially by mid 1900’s when the balls were stored in containers, and along with that, changing its traditional white color to optic yellow so that the ball is visible to the TV audience.

For many years tennis balls have not witnessed any other significant change because they are being produced the massive amount. Since the tennis balls were being produced in bulk, so they were being manufactured in factories that were established in Far East countries like Thailand. Wilson’s factory which is located in the suburbs of Bangkok, it is producing about a 100 million yellow-green balls. However the product manager of Wilson claims that Wilson balls are far better than any other ball in terms of felt on it and bounce. They believe that their balls are tightly protected by a tight woven outer part which makes the ball long lasting, a fast speed and they do not fluff up unlike other balls.

Some more development in the 20th century:

Everything about the ball’s specifications is being controlled by the international tennis federation (ITF). The balls we see today are tested for their bounce by dropping them from a height of 254 cm on flat surface with controlled temperatures. For a good bounce, the rebound must lie between 135-145 cm. All tennis balls must have a diameter between 2.5 and 2.7 inch and they should weigh between 56-59 grams. Now the balls are made with compression molding of a rubber compound to make the core.

Today there are so many tennis ball companies and over 300 million balls are sold worldwide yearly. However Penn and Wilson tennis balls have the greatest market share.

Types of tennis balls:

There are so many different varieties of tennis balls being produced such as:

Pressure-less: These balls are made with solid cores and have increased life span.  Their bounce remains the same, however the felt of the ball gets damaged more quickly than any other type of ball. But they are ideal for beginners as they are more in control and can be used on any court surface.

Pressurized: These balls are pressurized with air or nitrogen gas and they do not have any solid stuff in their core. They come in sealed containers, but their life is very short and they start losing their bounce once they are out of their containers. They are typically used more by professional tennis players because it is a high performance ball.

Regular duty: This ball is perfect for playing indoor as well as using on court. These balls come with a thinner felt, but they work well for practice sessions.

Extra duty: This ball works best when playing on clay/hard court and even for grass courts, because of its thicker felt it lasts longer.

High Altitude: This ball was introduced in 1990. It suitable for such areas that are more than 4,000 feet above sea level. It has controlled bounce as compared to any other ball.

Why were tennis balls changed to yellow in 1986?

The historical reason for changing the color of soccer balls is that they were too difficult to see on TV. In order not to have a white ball visible, yellow ones had been shown by studies as being best against many backgrounds and surfaces but not really good at showing up well with cameras filming them the live-the way we watch games nowadays.

Why are tennis balls green?

The actual color of tennis balls is yellow, not green. The green color is actually the shade used on all computer monitors and television sets. Green is the easiest color for our eyes and minds to absorb, so it’s the color we use to represent things that are “on” or active. But, all tennis balls were yellow, they  appear green on television screens because yellow light strikes a camera lens at such an angle that all objects look green.

Did tennis balls use to be white?

Yes, until 1972 tennis balls used to be white. This color was a mistake as the television camera used to film the games made them look yellow, but they were actually white.

In 1972 tennis balls changed from being white to yellow because this would show up better on television screens. In 1986 the rules changed so that all professional tournaments had to use bright colored balls-virtually making them impossible not to see on a television screen.

In 2002 the balls were made of a brighter more durable felt, which means that they bounce better and retain their shape.

How did technology affect tennis balls?

Technology has allowed manufacturing advances that have changed the construction of tennis balls greatly since they were first introduced. Rubber cores replaced rubber bladders which caused a great improvement in bounce and ball stability, when it was discovered that the core thickness could affect performance characteristics.

Prior to this discovery, felt was not used on modern tennis balls; hence there were no spin characteristics. This fact created the development of the dimpled surface, which significantly influenced ball behavior, as it allowed more spin to be placed on the ball.

How do tennis balls play a role in today’s game?

Tennis balls play a significant role in today’s game as they are regulated by the International Tennis Foundation (ITF).

Training:   Players use a variety of balls to practice their equipment and techniques, as well as varying weather conditions.

Tournaments: Tournament play requires the best possible ball in terms of consistency, durability, and ball pressure on each stroke. Although this may mean different standards for men’s and women’s rounds (men’s finals use more durable balls), it ensures equal play.

Also, new balls are tested with players to ensure that they are performing at their highest level. If this is not the case, the balls will be changed.

Wrapping Up

The history of tennis balls has been long and fascinating. It’s always interesting to learn about how things came to be the way they are today, especially when it comes to something as important yet simple as a tennis ball! Which other sports or games do you think would be fun to research?

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