There is nothing quite like a new can of tennis balls. From the clean look to the smell that some people absolutely can’t get enough of, it’s very satisfying to open up a new can. It also helps that inside are pressurized and lively balls, allowing players to hit shots and dictate where things are going.
In an ideal world, tennis players will always have a fresh batch of balls to hit with. That can get expensive in a hurry, which is why people will usually make a compromise of some sort depending on the level of play. Tennis balls can only hold up and perform at a high level for so long.
How long do tennis balls last? Most players playing an actual match will use a new can of balls every single session. If the two players are hitting with decent speed, balls are only going to hold up for about two or three hours of play. Casual players who don’t hit as hard might be able to get more life out of a new can of balls.
How To Spot A Dead Ball
Any person who plays tennis will notice pretty early on how a new or gently used ball will play. The ball bounces a certain way, comes off the racquet as it should, and is pretty firm when squeezing it in the hand. Any fresh can of balls will feel this way, and will keep that feeling for a while.
A dead tennis ball is going to feel differently, play differently, and more often than not, look differently. Before hitting the ball, an easy way to tell if a ball is dead or not is to squeeze it. If the ball is squished easily, it’s dead. They will usually be pretty dirty and the felt will fluff up a bit as well.
If a ball passes those two tests, the final test to see if the ball is dead or not is to go ahead and hit with it. Tennis players can tell almost right away after one or two hits whether or not it is a dead ball. It’s going to sound and feel differently off a racquet, and the ball will not travel as fast or bounce as high. It makes a hollow, dead sound when it hits the strings, and even when hit hard, it goes nowhere fast.
Some people will save balls that are only slightly dead for a casual hit-around or serving practice. If the ball is completely dead, throw them away or put them aside for another use (more on that later).
How Often Are Balls Replaced at the Pro level?
Nearly every professional tournament at the highest level follows the same protocol for changing balls. They provide a set of balls at the very beginning of each match during the warm-up. After the warm-up, those same balls stay in play for seven games. After that, a new set of balls make an appearance, and they are replaced every nine games from then on.
Balls lose their bounce and fluff up at a much faster rate when the best players in the world are hitting shot after shot. To a casual player, switching balls every nine games would be excessive, but balls are pretty beat up in a short amount of time during long, intense rallies between top players in the world.
The difference in balls between the first and the ninth game is so significant that players will time up their racquet changes depending on when new balls appear. A brand new ball is going to react slightly differently on the same stroke compared to a ball that has been used for eight or nine games, and that tiny difference can be huge at the pro level.
Why Tennis Balls Are Vacuum Sealed & Pressurized
For a tennis ball to work properly, it needs to hold the level of pressure inside the ball at a high level. The only way to preserve that pressure until it is ready is to vacuum seal the can. It’s all taken care of at the factory, and as soon as a can is opened, it has a set amount of time before they lose pressure. The balls lose pressure at a faster rate when being used, but even a completely unused ball will lose pressure in time.
One way to look at a can of tennis balls is to compare it to a can of soda. When a can of soda is first opened, it has the right amount of carbonation and fizz people have come to expect. It acts as a timer for the drink, as it loses more and more fizz the longer it is open. Eventually, the drink is flat, and it doesn’t taste like it did in the beginning.
It’s important to never open a can of tennis balls until it is time to play. Some beginners made the mistake of opening a can of new balls at home or even worse, the night before. Although it would cut down on storage space in a bag, it’s robbing the balls of life.
You can read more about why tennis balls are sealed in cans here.
How Much Does a Can of Tennis Balls Cost?
An average can of tennis balls these days costs anywhere from $3 to $5 for the most part. It depends on the quality of the ball, the brand, and if they are purchased one can at a time or in a case. There are a lot of different options out there, and tennis players start to favor a particular type of ball the more they play. If you are looking for durable tennis balls, I wrote an article the other day about the best tennis balls.
The standard tennis balls usually have the word “Championship” in the name. Whether it be the Penn Championship tennis ball, the Wilson Championship tennis ball, or the Dunlop Championship tennis ball, this is usually the most affordable option for people to go with.
They work best on clay courts, or with players who don’t hit particularly hard. The felt isn’t quite as durable, and they tend to go flat a little faster.
I listed the best cheap tennis balls in this post.
The more expensive options will be similar to the balls used by all the major tournaments around the world. The three brands above are well known for making tennis balls, as well as companies like Babolat and Prince.
These balls tend to last a decent amount longer and can handle hard courts as well. The ball is resistant to fluff early on, which allows for a better and more consistent shot every single time.
What Can Be Done With Old Tennis Balls?
Tennis balls might not have a long shelf life as far as competitive play is concerned, but that doesn’t mean that they lose all value after just a couple of hours. There are many different things a person can do with old tennis balls, and even if an individual can’t do something with them, there’s always a chance to pass them along.
After the initial few hours of competitive play, most people transition those balls to the practice court. Players will use gently used balls that have lost some of their pressure to practice or warm up down the road.
These balls are perfectly fine to use for hours and hours of practice, and once they become too flat, just put them to the side and separate them from the other practice balls.
Once the tennis balls are too flat to be used on the tennis court, they make a perfect toy for dogs looking to play fetch. They also have some great value in Do-It-Yourself projects.
A lot of teachers will cut tennis balls and put them on the bottom of chairs to reduce the sound and damage of chairs. The same concept works for walkers in nursing homes. Some people even use tennis balls as mini-planters.
Buying In Bulk
People who play a lot of tennis benefit from buying tennis balls in bulk more often than not. Since most used a new can before virtually any match or intense hitting session, some players will go through a case of 24 cans in a month. There is usually a decent discount for purchasing in bulk instead of purchasing one can of balls at a time, so it’s worth looking into.
Always be on the lookout for deals locally and online. Keep an eye on shipping as well, because some companies will charge a good amount of money to ship tennis balls. It’s pretty tricky to ship them since they are not only bulky but fairly heavy as well.
Tennis Balls: A Necessary Expense
Yes, it’s a little annoying that tennis balls don’t have enough durability to last longer than a few hours, but the good news is that they are relatively inexpensive.
Play with a few of the top balls and see which one feels the best. After that, always have a nice supply of cans ready to go. It is a lot cheaper to purchase ahead of time than to rely on buying at a local club since they tend to upcharge slightly.