One of the pleasures of getting ready for a tennis match is cracking open a new canister of tennis balls. You can get a bit more zip on your shots and achieve a higher bounce on your serves to keep your opponents further back in the court.
However, on the other hand tennis balls can be equally frustrating.
They lose their bounce and become dead quite quickly rendering them almost useless for matches (although you can usually still practice with them)
In this article, let’s look at how long tennis balls last and when you should replace them, how quickly they begin to lose their bounce, how you can make them last longer and what you can do with them when they’re not suitable for matches any more.
For recreational use, a fresh can of tennis balls should be fine for a few hours of play. That means they should be ok for a couple of matches, providing you use them over the course of a week or two. For competitive players, you really want a new set of tennis balls every match.
Why do tennis balls lose their bounce?
Tennis balls are kept in pressurized containers which preserves the pressure inside the ball. However once the seal is broken, the pressure is gradually lost inside the tennis ball.
This happens naturally over time, which is why if you open a new canister of tennis balls and don’t even use them for a while, they will have already lost some of their bounce when you play with them in a game.
The pressure inside the ball will escape even faster during a match as it hits the ground and comes into contact with a tennis racket. The harder you hit the ball, more pressure is lost, which is why professional players may have a few ball changes during a match.
How quickly does a tennis ball lose its bounce?
For most players, a new can of balls should be fine for a best of 3 sets match but they will start to lose their bounce after just a few games.
As professional players hit the ball harder then recreational players, you’ll see them changing to a new set of balls every 9 games.
That’s why it’s always seen as an advantage to serve first after the umpire announces “New balls please”. That extra bounce will make it harder for the receiver to get the ball back in play.
How do you know when a tennis ball needs to replaced?
This is the most obvious factor. You can find this out just by dropping a tennis ball on the court and seeing how well it bounces. If you’re unsure if it’s still ok to use in a match, compare it with a new ball and check.
If it bounces just a little lower than a new ball, you’re probably ok, but if it’s considerably worse, just toss it to one side and only use it for practicing.
Try squeezing the tennis ball in the palm of your hand. If you can compress the sides of the ball very easily, it’s probably dead and not fit for use any more. A new ball will hardly give at all when you squeeze it in your hand.
This is a little trickier to pick up on. A dead tennis ball will have a very dull thud sound when you make contact with it with your racquet, unlike a new one which have more of a ping when you hit it.
Lack of felt or fuzz on the ball
Take a look at a new tennis ball. You’ll see that felt can easily come off it. An older tennis ball will have worn patches on it and feel a lot smoother.
How long do tennis balls last unopened?
As they are kept in a pressurized can, they do last a long time in an unopened canister.
However, one popular misconception is that the balls will last indefinitely. This isn’t the case, as air can still leak over time. For most tennis balls (in an unopened can) they have a shelf life of about 2 years.
How to make tennis balls last longer?
If you find it frustrating getting through new canisters of tennis balls every week, the only way to make them last longer is to reduce how quickly they lose their pressure.
If you’re interested there’s a product called Pressureball which is essentially a soft tube you can put used balls in, storing them at 14 PSI, which is the same pressure as in an unopened canister. It’s a handy little product which dramatically increases the length of time you can use tennis balls, until the felt starts to wear out).
Other than that, there’s not a whole lot you can do.
I came across a thread on Tennis Warehouse about storing tennis balls in the freezer as a way to reduce the loss of pressure inside the balls. However, the consensus over there is that it doesn’t really work 🙂
Pressureless tennis balls.
These balls have a solid core and last a lot longer than pressurised tennis balls. However, they’re not really suitable for use during a match as they just feel stiffer to play with. Many tennis coaches use them because they’re fine for practicing ground strokes and volleys with recreational and junior players looking to improve their game. Also, as you can imagine, tennis coaches will save quite a bit of money not having to buy new cans of pressurised tennis balls all the time!
It’s important to note that pressureless tennis balls will still wear out over time as the felt wears away, but the bounce should be consistent for quite a long time. In fact the bounce can actually improve as the outer covering wears out!
What can you do with old tennis balls?
So what do you do with old tennis balls once you’ve determined they can no longer be used for matches?
Well, here are some ideas…
1) Use them for practicing (unless they’re completely dead)
You can still practice your serve and drop feed old tennis balls to practice your ground strokes. However, if they really have no bounce at all, then I wouldn’t recommend using them at all as you can pick up an arm or shoulder injury as you’ll likely try to hit them too hard .
2) Get creative
Tennis balls can be used creatively when it comes to arts and crafts. Here are some great suggestions with everything from Christmas tree decorations to puppets!
Surprisingly, a tennis ball can be an effective tool for cleaning. You can use it to remove scuff marks, and if you don’t want to get on your hands and knees, just cut out an ‘X’ mark and attach it to a broom handle.
With this second idea, you can also use it to remove cobwebs in the corners near the ceiling.
I really dislike the white polystyrene blocks and small pieces that come in boxes to protect a product. Instead, why not use tennis balls. They can absorb some of the shock and keep products safe.
5) Recycle or Donate
Even if you have no use for old tennis balls, some people may still want them.
Try giving them to charity shops or schools. You can also recycle them if you have quite a few saved up. Here in the UK, there is a company called Recycaball which will buy your old tennis balls for 25p!
6) Use them on chair legs
Some teachers like to use tennis balls on chairs to stop all the squeaking and noise when pupils drag them across the floor.
7) Use them in the tumble dryer
If you put a couple of tennis balls in the dryer with your duvet, pillows and coats, it will help them dry faster.
The internal pressure inside a tennis ball is 14 PSI, and overtime pressure is lost inside the ball and the bounce gets worse. In order for them to not lose any pressure and retain their bounce, containers are also pressurized to 14 PSI.
Pro tennis players often pick three or four balls before they serve but only use two. This is actually a tactic to increase their chances of winning a point. For the first serve, players want a ball which is smooth, without any visible bits of felt coming loose. This is because the ball will fly through the air faster so it makes it harder for opponent to return. For the second serve, players want a ball which is a bit more fluffy. This is slightly easier to control, reducing the chance to hitting a double fault, as it grips the tennis strings better.