On a warm spring day, really the first decent day since fall, you grab your tennis bag and head to the courts. On the way there you are excited to play for the first time in months. On arrival, you open the bag and pull out some balls you only used once. When you hit the balls, you get a dull thud and kind of a tender feeling in your shoulder or elbow as the balls just won’t fly unless you really smack them.

Of course, you should have picked up a new can and now you wish you did. But what kind of balls should you buy? Could you have avoided this situation any other way? The major ball manufactures are all competing for your business as they produce approximately 300 million annually.

What are Tennis Balls Made of?

There are two basic parts to a tennis ball:

1. The core: generally made of rubber from Thailand, it starts as half shells that are fused. Manufacturers have various thicknesses and formulas to create what they see as the ideal, long lasting, consistent bouncing core.

2. The felt: the fuzzy outside of a ball can be made of all sorts of products including wool and polyester. Glue is used to attach it to the core. Manufacturers are constantly tinkering with the felt as the length of time it takes to wear out dictates when new balls are purchased.

Types of Tennis Balls

Two broad categories of balls:

    • Pressurized: typically three balls where air pressure has been manufactured into the core are placed into a pressurized can (plastic now, formerly metal) holding air 2 psi greater than the balls themselves. The can holds the air 50 times greater than the balls themselves thus helping them fly farther and faster with less effort from the player.

    • Pressureless: A thicker core means they bounce not because of air pressure in the ball, but because of the rubber. They don’t need the pressure from a can. Therefore these balls are not as impacted by play allowing significantly longer use. They can be a bit heavier and may need some play on them before the full bounce is achieved. Some people complain this additional weight can cause injury but manufacturers have been working on keeping the weight similar to pressurized balls. Some people consider these to be a “greener” product as they don’t need a conventional can.

Regular Duty vs. Extra Duty vs. High Altitude

    • Regular duty balls work best on softer courts like clay and grass. The slightly thinner felt allows the ball to bounce true while not absorbing as much moisture and dirt like a thicker felt.
    • Extra (or heavy) duty balls are designed for hard or abrasive courts like asphalt and concrete. They hold up better under these difficult conditions.

    • High altitude balls are used when the court is at 3500-4000 feet of elevation or higher. With slightly less pressure and slightly larger diameter, they are designed to play like regular balls play at sea level.

What are Practice Tennis Balls?

Often used by professionals giving lessons, they are often pressureless and/or marked “Coach.” They are designed to be used for extended periods. Since they can be a bit heavier they assist players in matches using regular balls which are easier to hit and spin.

Tennis balls for Beginners, Kids & Youth

Over the last decade, a revolution in teaching methods led teachers to use what are now the red and orange felt balls. They are lower pressure or no pressure and are easier to hit and play with being somewhat bigger and fluffier. They don’t fly as far making them easier to control. They are not suitable for regular play for adults but ideal for kids and learners of any age.

Choosing the Right Tennis Ball

Three steps to deciding:

1. Know what kind of court you will play on. If a harder, abrasive surface, use an extra-duty ball. If softer or less abrasive, use regular duty.

2. Know why you are playing. Are you doing drills where you will hit dozens of shots trying to improve? Pressureless will make sense. Use pressurized for regular play. Try different brands to see which suits your game. (Note that some innovative new pressureless balls are designed for regular play too. Experiment for yourself to see what works best for you.)

3. Know your altitude to decide on high altitude balls.

How often should a new can be opened?

Everytime you play. For the average player, about two to four hours of play is a normal life for a tennis ball. Some highly abrasive hard courts will wear balls faster especially if being used by heavy hitters.Damp clay courts will cause balls to absorb moisture and dirt making them very heavy and hard to hit. This is why balls are replaced much more often in pro matches . Once a can is opened, the balls inside will retain pressure for about two weeks if not played. 

Who makes the best balls?

    • Penn is the biggest seller in the United States.
    • Wilson is also very popular and used at the US Open. They make great practice balls for beginners and kids.
    • Dunlop is a good value and used in many clinics and camps.

Opening a Pressurized Can

1. Remove the plastic lid cover.

2. Carefully lift the ring to break the seal.

3. Pull up carefully on the ring to dislodge the lid.

4. If the ring snaps off before the lid is completely removed (not unusual), don’t fret! Carefully use a key to either press the lid into the can or lift it out.

5. In all cases, be very aware of the sharpness of the outside edge of the metal lid. It can and will slice open a hand if force is applied to the skin.

6. Note the plastic lid will not materially preserve the balls once the pressurized seal is broken.

Tennis Ball Recycling

There are a couple of recycling companies using discarded balls in things like court surfaces. They are not, however, appropriate for residential recycling services. They do make great craft projects, floor protectors for walkers for the elderly and disabled, and of course, perfect for your dog’s endless games. Even pets love tennis!

Tennisracquets.com is your go to source for tennis balls and all tennis equipment. With the ability to buy in bulk, incredible choice, and always competitive prices, you are just a few clicks away from better tennis and even more fun!