Watch enough high-level tennis on television or in person, and players will do a lot of examining before stepping up to the line and serving. If it looks like they are examining each ball before making a decision, that is precisely what they are doing. Why do they do this?
How do tennis players choose balls ball before serving? Players examining the balls are looking at each one’s quality before ultimately picking what makes the most sense for them. The majority of servers, especially ones who rely heavily on speed, want to make sure they get the smoothest ball possible for ultimate speed. A fluffier ball is better for a second serve, as they are easier to control.
The Lifespan of a Tennis Ball
Tennis players at any level understand that the life of a tennis ball is relatively short. Casual players will tend to play with one can for a match, and by the end of things, the balls will be moving much differently than the beginning.
Moving up the ranks, professionals only use a set of tennis balls for seven games at the beginning of the match, and nine games after. It seems crazy to think that tennis balls lose that much life in such a short amount of time, but that is how hard the ball is hit at that level.
One of the balls in a set is inevitably going to show more wear than the others. Perhaps that one has been going through longer rallies, or it is just the odd one out in the bunch. You can read more about how long tennis balls last in this post.
Strategy With Smoother Balls
Servers who rely on a powerful first serve will always be hunting for the smoothest tennis ball they can find. This is to get the maximum amount of speed and gain that edge for the very first shot. Even if it does not end up being an ace, it could set up an easy follow up that leads to a point.
It might not seem like it would make that much of a difference, but even a few extra miles per hour can put a returner off-balance. In a game of inches, every little advantage matters. There is usually less ball examining early after a change of balls at the professional level, but by the eighth or ninth game, there is a lot more looking around and searching.
As a returner, a server hitting with a smoother ball can be excellent for flat hitters as well. By flipping the point in favor of the returner, there is a chance of having some pretty outstanding success. Players who stay on the defensive are hoping that the ball is as fluffy as possible, allowing them that extra bit of time to retrieve balls anywhere on the court.
Strategy With Fluffy Balls
Not everyone relies on a big serve, and they might be going up against someone who hits very hard themselves. If that is the case, using the fluffier balls might be the better way to go. They provide more accuracy on the second serve, and it can slow down the opponent who might be trying to blast balls away.
This is why it makes a lot of sense for people who are hitting second serves in general. Instead of overhitting and potentially committing double faults, the fuzzy balls can increase the chances of all shots going in.
Returners will have a better time returning these balls in, and they can hit out a little more knowing that they will not risk an error themselves. It is a bit of a counterbalance for every matchup, as people need to be aware of who they are going up against and their own strengths.
Rituals & Routines
Tennis players have a lot of rituals and routines. Checking out the balls is something that has popped up throughout the years. Players will make it part of their routine as a way to concentrate and reset during a match. Yes, it involves picking out the best ball they can find, but it allows them to slow things down so that they are not getting too caught up in the moment.
After a point, a professional player usually walks around, takes a towel break, and gets the balls for the next serve. By following this routine every time, a player gets in their own rhythm and never feels particularly rushed.
Some players do not really think it makes too much of a difference when picking between the different balls they are presented. It is true that at the highest levels, with balls switched out so frequently, one is not going to look like an average practice ball at a local club. Maybe it is mostly in the head of some players, but speed measurements show that the ball is livelier when it has not fluffed up.
Is It Worth The Hassle?
Not everyone is a pro, but picking the right ball can provide some subtle benefits. It really does not take any extra effort, and it can sometimes be a beneficial way to slow down if a person tends to rush.
For those reasons, go ahead and try picking the best tennis balls to serve at any level. Even if it results in just one extra ball going in, that could be the difference between winning a service game, or being broken.