You can’t really play tennis without quality tennis balls.
Nowadays, you can buy practically any brand of a tennis ball and you’re going to be met with the same results thanks to modern manufacturing.
That’s good for your wallet, but there isn’t much variety out there in terms of construction.
Tennis balls are made of a rubber hull that’s filled with gas (such as nitrogen), and zinc on the surface before the felt is applied.
That’s basically the anatomy of a tennis ball in a nutshell.
Let’s discuss how long you can expect them to last, and what to do with them when they’re eventually retired.
- 1 How Often Should You Change Your Tennis Balls?
- 2 Why Are Tennis Balls Preserved in Airtight Canisters?
- 3 Why do Pro Tennis Players Change Their Balls After Nine Games?
- 4 What Can You Do With Old Tennis Balls?
- 5 Keep a Rotating Stock of Tennis Balls
How Often Should You Change Your Tennis Balls?
It depends on use.
How often are you playing tennis, and how long are those matches?
A good rule of thumb is to analyze your own tennis habits and retire tennis balls, individually, after about fifteen hours of play.
That means buying a cheap three-pack canister of tennis balls is like purchasing forty-five hours of playtime.
If you can’t track that time or just haven’t kept tabs on which ball you’re using, that’s okay.
There’s another way to tell without having to do that.
You’ll notice performance changes to the balls as you use them, which can best be determined if you ask yourself these questions.
Does the ball “crack” loudly when it hits the court?
If not, that’s a cause for concern.
Since these balls are made out of rubber, and they have to maintain a certain air pressure inside the ball, it’s fairly easy to split that rubber, after all, the super-fast shots hitting solid concrete or clay.
When you think about it, it’s remarkable that a ball lasts as long as it does.
That crack sound is the pressure and vibrations in the rubber pinging off the court material.
Once that stops, it’s because the vibrations are muffled by micro-tears and cracks in the rubber surface, and they’re on their way out.
Is the felt getting very worn down?
The felt isn’t the primary component of your tennis ball, but it’s a good indicator as to how much stress the ball has been through.
Look for abrasions and missing shreds of felt along the ball surface, as well as faded white lines. You can expect to feel a less fuzzy feeling on the ball if the felt is wearing down considerably.
Are they squishy?
You know that feeling you get when you take brand new tennis balls out of the canister? That feeling should remain for quite some time.
Just apply pressure with your hand, and if you can feel it buckle, there could be a gash in the rubber that’s allowing air to freely enter and exit the ball, which also means your nitrogen has leaked out.
If the gash is big enough, you’ll have almost no bounce when you serve, which could be an issue that appears before you have to test the pressure of the ball.
Why Are Tennis Balls Preserved in Airtight Canisters?
Well, that’s because they are made differently.
There are three main types of tennis balls for different courts, those being grass, sand, and clay (clay balls also work for asphalt and concrete courts).
Each of those need to be pressurized, because they contain different amounts of nitrogen in the ball’s center.
For some balls, there’s a mixture of normal air and nitrogen to give different bounce.
If you’ve ever seen tennis balls sold in bulk in large bags, those are not pressurized.
They don’t need the environment of the air canister to keep their bounce, but they do come with a fair share of downsides.
These are training balls, and while they just rely on air inside the ball instead of gas like nitrogen, they have a shorter lifespan (hence the huge bulk buys).
Pressurized canisters help maintain the gas in your tennis balls even after you’ve opened them for the first time.
It’s why you’ll often see people reusing the same canister when they store their balls to head home for the day, a habit that you should start getting into.
Alternatively, you can buy these in pressurized plastic canisters, and buy specific aftermarket canisters to prolong the life of your tennis balls.
Why do Pro Tennis Players Change Their Balls After Nine Games?
So we’ve talked a lot about the pressure in these tennis balls, and how quickly it loses pressure once you remove it from the can.
For federation rules, they switch these out on an alternating schedule after nine games, then eleven, then back to nine.
Other federations will use a seven, nine, seven methods to keep them fresh.
The reason for this is that they want to keep the pop on those tennis balls to prevent players from claiming they were playing with defective equipment, but also just to keep everything looking resh.
You have to think, most of these events are televised.
You have these tennis players in immaculate clothing (at least before they sweat like mad dogs in them), and the tennis balls are gleaming in the sunlight from every angle.
This keeps them clean and looks good for the game.
A dirty tennis ball just looks like there’s no respect for the game.
For some context, that’s the seventh game of the match, so events like the French Open go through a lot of tennis balls before they call it quits for the day.
It’s estimated that the number rests around 50,000 or so.
We’re on a budget here, so you can absolutely get away with switching them out less often than that.
If you’re going up against a rival in a match or going to the club, you can use federation rules to swap out your balls often (so long as you buy plenty).
This keeps the game fresh, ensures each shot is going to be crisp and fair and has you living up to pro rules.
There will be no room for error, so you can defeat your opponent and know that it was 100% legit.
What Can You Do With Old Tennis Balls?
There’s not much else you can do for tennis once they’ve lost that pop, so you’re left with throwing them in the traditional garbage, or finding a way to give back.
There are three main ways you can do this.
1. School Chairs
Remember sliding around in your school chair because it had tennis balls on the feet?
Then remember that every chair in the whole school had tennis balls on the feet?
That’s because it reduces scratching and loud, distracting noises when kids go to slide back.
You’re going to through a lot of tennis balls, so there’s no reason why you can’t keep them in a bag in the basement or laundry room until you have a few dozen, and donate them to your nearby elementary school.
Call ahead to make sure they will accept them, but most times, there will be no problem with this.
2. Tennis Court Paving
Yes, that’s right, some companies will build entirely new tennis courts using the rubber and zinc in those tennis balls.
They strip the felt away, then make them malleable and pave with them.
It’s super cool, and once you play on a rubber court that’s actually made out of recycled tennis balls, you’re never going to play the game the same way again.
There’s a little more bounce in your own step, and more pop when you smack a ball against the court.
These companies usually don’t pay you for it, but how cool would it be to know that your experience that you gained from your tennis balls literally paved the path for others to learn?
It’s a respect-for-the-game kind of thing.
3. Simple Recycling
Rubber, zinc and felt are all recyclable goods in most states in the US.
Inspect your waste provider’s page to ensure this, but you should have no problem just putting these in your recycling bin.
Rubber is a synthetic polymer, and it takes as long to break down as plastic, so you won’t really want to throw them in the normal garbage.
Just be sure to puncture these before you put them in the recycling bin so any residual nitrogen can escape.
Keep a Rotating Stock of Tennis Balls
If there’s anything we’ve learned from all of this, it’s that you have to keep your tennis balls in pressurized canisters, and you need to have a ton of them in your rotating stock.
It’s just the cost of doing business.
While your rackets might last five or more years, no tennis ball is designed to do so.
Be sure to use a good recycling method once they’ve been retired so you can put them to good use.Last updated on: