The curious case of why male and female tennis players are given different balls.

 

Early on Monday morning, or Sunday afternoon London time, the men’s final marked the end of Wimbledon for 2017, the oldest tennis tournament in the world.

At Wimbledon men and women, unsurprisingly, use the same tennis balls. You know the ones; they have ‘Wimbledon’ printed across them and are manufactured by Slazenger. But what most people don’t know, is that’s not the case at most tennis grand slams around the world.

Serena Williams’ fastest serve at Wimbledon comes in at 188 kilometres per hour, 12 kilometres slower that her fastest US Open serve. And it all comes down to the type of ball.

LISTEN: John McEnroe said Serena Williams couldn’t beat a man ranked in the top 700. Did he have a point? Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and I discuss. Post continues below.

The United States Tennis Association said in a statement, “Men and women use the same ball in terms of size, pressure and design. The sole difference is that the men compete with an extra-duty felt ball while the women compete using a regular-duty felt ball.”

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Although it might seem like a slight difference, experts say that the density of the yellow felt coating can have an enormous effect on speed and ball action.

The purpose of using two different balls is simple: To make the women’s game a little faster.

Image via Getty.

Last year, when Andy Murray was mid-match at the Miami Open, he was mistakenly handed one of the women's balls, distinguished by a red mark as opposed to black.

Murray confronted the umpire saying, "That's unbelievable. That's one of the women's balls. I could have just hit a shot with it. It's not right, do you know how different the balls are?"

“I have no idea where it came from,” he remarked, and said he made the decision not to serve the ball.

In the press conference following his victory, Murray said, "I was a bit frustrated because I’d just missed two balls long, and I didn’t know if that was one of the balls that I’d used in the last couple of points... They're much quicker, smaller and livelier."

Andy Murray. Image via Getty.

Similarly, in 2012, Roddick discovered he'd picked up a women's ball during the U.S. Open. He told Newsday at the time, “See, the women use a different ball than we do, and I did what I normally do, get three or four balls and look for the one that looks the lightest to serve."

Women's balls can feel lighter and spring off the racket at an accelerated rate.

The idea of using different balls emerged in 2004 and was broached by the Women's Tennis Association. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “this double standard makes for competitive tennis, blunting the power of the biggest men’s servers, while letting the women play more aggressively.”

The Australian Open and The French Open, much like Wimbledon, do not distinguish between men and women's balls.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

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