History of Tennis Balls: A Journey Through Time

When was the first tennis ball invented? This question is debatable but the history of tennis balls goes back to the 12th century. Some people argue that the game of tennis was invented in the 12th century and was known as Jeu De Paume (game of the palm).

Back then in the 12th century, the French aristocracy started this game. The ball was struck with the palm of a hand. This game was somewhat similar to the tennis we see nowadays, also known as lawn tennis.

While other people argue that the first mentions of an actual ball being played with are in the 15th Century. In the 15th century, it was played with a wooden frame racquet laced with sheep gut. And the balls were made from leather stuffed with human or horse hair.

Another variant of the ball was made using the stomach of a sheep which was covered with wool and tied with a rope.

history of tennis balls
In this picture: There are two tennis balls

History Of Tennis Balls

The history of tennis balls goes back to the 1850s. The first ball to play lawn tennis was invented in the 1850s by Charles Goodyear. Since then there have been many changes and alterations in the tennis ball to make it more comfortable to play with. The timeline of the tennis ball goes back to 1844.

In 1844 a self-taught chemist from the united states, Charles Goodyear who is a well-known personality in the history of tennis. Invented the vulcanized rubber process. It is the process of hardening the rubber which later led to the idea of creating spherical rubber balls.

After Charles Goodyear’s invention, a group of chemists from Germany developed light vulcanized air-filled balls. They were grey or red and there was no covering on them.

Later in 1882, John Moyer Heathcote who drafted the rules of tennis experimented with covering rubber balls with flannel. By the end of 1882 tennis balls covered with stout cloth started manufacturing in Melton Mowbray, a small town in Leicestershire, England.

In the 1920s, pressurized tennis balls stepped into the market. The vulcanized rubber balls covered with stout cloth were now pressurized to get greater bounce and faster speed.

Traditionally tennis balls were packed and sold in bags or cardboard boxes. But since 1926 a Pennsylvania Rubber Company (Penn) invented a pressurized air-tight cylindrical metal tube that held three tennis balls. This invention prolongs the life of packaged tennis balls.

Standardization Of Tennis Balls

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is an organization responsible for administering world tennis including wheelchair tennis and beach tennis. It was founded in 1913 by the American Duane Williams. The IFT is responsible for making and enforcing the rules of tennis which also includes the tennis ball.

The rules stated by ITF for a standard ITF-approved tennis ball are as follows.

  • The diameter of the ball should be between 6.54cm (2.57 inches) and 6.86cm (2.70 inches).
  • A tennis ball should weigh between 56.0g and 59.4g.
  • When the ball is dropped from a height of 254cm (100 inches) onto a concrete surface it should bounce back to a height between 53cm (20.9 inches) and 58cm (22.8 inches).
  • The ITF rule states that tennis balls must be made of rubber, and must have a felt covering.

Modern Tennis Balls

Modern Tennis Balls
In this picture: There is a tennis racquet and a tennis ball

Nowadays the manufacturing of tennis balls is advanced. They are now manufactured with premium, synthetic and natural rubber. The rubber undergoes a few industrial processes to create a soft and stretchy material.

Some tennis ball manufacturers have taken the initiative of manufacturing tennis balls with recycled rubber which is a more eco-friendly and sustainable practice.

The process of manufacturing tennis balls in the 21st century is not very complex but the main key to creating the optimal tennis ball is precision and that’s where a lot of industries lack.

The rubber is molded into two half shapes and then placed in a hydraulic press, which creates a core of the tennis ball. A special type of adhesive is used as a coating to strengthen them. After the two half cores are filled with pressurized air and the balls are vulcanized. Vulcanizing is a process of heating the balls to harden the rubber.

In the final process, the rubber ball is covered with yellow felt. The yellow felt material gives the ball more spin, durability and control. Lastly, the ball undergoes a testing process to make sure it complies with the ITF rules for a standard tennis ball.

Impact Of Tennis Ball On The Game 

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) introduced three variations of tennis balls:

  • Type 1: Fast-Speed Ball.
  • Type 2: Standard Ball.
  • Type 3: Slow Speed Ball.
  • Another Type: High-Altitude Ball.

The Type 1 ball which is a fast speedball is mainly used on slower speed courts such as clay courts, in addition, tennis balls with less fluff are also used on clay courts. The reason behind using less fluff is that less moisture and dirt are picked up by the balls, thus they do not get heavy.

Type 2 balls are used for standard or medium-speed courts. Medium-speed courts are hard surface courts, the speed of hard courts depends on the amount of sand used on the top layer of a tennis court.

For fast-paced courts ITF standardized Type 3 balls which are specifically designed for grass courts. A grass court is the fastest tennis court surface. Due to the slippery surface of grass courts, the ball generates more speed and it also bounces less because of the softness of the grass.

For tennis tournaments that are played at High Altitudes, High Altitude tennis balls were introduced. These balls are filled with lower pressure in comparison to the ones that are used at lower altitudes.

The reason behind using the less pressurized tennis balls is that at high altitudes the air is comparatively less dense which causes the ball to travel faster and makes it hard for players to control their shots. This was proved in a WTA Finals at Guadalajara, Mexico where players used pressureless balls.

These changes were implemented to minimize the differences between court surfaces for players and to make it easy for them to adapt to any type of clay court.

Tennis Balls Used In Professional Tennis Games

Tennis Balls Used In Professional Tennis Games
In this picture: A woman is holding tennis balls

There are multiple brands supplying tennis balls to international tennis tournaments. Among them, there are four major brands.

  • Dunlop
  • Wilson
  • Slazenger
  • Babolat

The Australian Open uses Dunlop tennis balls for their international tennis tournaments. Roland Garros used Babolat tennis balls but since 2019 Wilson has taken over Babolat and become the official supplier of tennis balls for Roland Garros.

Since 1902 Wimbledon has been using Slazenger tennis balls for their professional matches while the US Open uses Wilson as their supplier since 1978.

Finally Some World Tennis Facts

  • There are more than 200 tennis ball brands approved by the ITF.
  • The weight of a tennis ball increases due to humidity.
  • Every year around 300 Million balls are produced.
  • The yellowish felt used on the tennis ball is its most expensive part.

There are a lot more tennis ball facts, I have written a detailed article in which I have mentioned every tennis fact to this date make sure to read it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of tennis balls?

ITF introduced three variations of tennis balls. Type 1 (Fast-Speed Ball), Type 2 (Standard Ball), and Type 3 (Slow-Speed Ball).

What were old tennis balls made of?

According to the history of tennis balls the old tennis balls were made from leather stuffed with human or horse hair. Another variant of the ball was made using the stomach of a sheep which was covered with wool and tied with a rope.

Why did the tennis ball change from white to yellow? 

Traditionally tennis balls were either black or white but in 1972 the ITF introduced yellow tennis into the rules of tennis. The reason behind choosing the yellow ball was that research had shown yellow tennis balls are more visible on a television screen.

When were tennis balls first used?

According to historians tennis balls were first used by the French aristocracy in the 12th century.

Why did they stop using white tennis balls?

A researched had shown that white tennis balls are less visible to the viewers watching the tennis game on a tv, therefore white tennis balls were replaced by yellow tennis balls making it easy for the spectators to track the ball.

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