Go into your local pro shop or online tennis retailer and you’ll be sure to find a vast array of different tennis balls.
You’ll see offerings from all the major brands, each claiming their ball is the best for a specific purpose or reason.
You may even see different coloured balls for juniors, indicating a softer and lighter feel.
However, one variation of tennis ball you may not have come across is a pressureless tennis ball. Now this may sound pretty counter intuitive.
Am I being sold a flat ball here? Well… Not exactly.
Pressurised tennis balls are stored in airtight cans (hence the pop when you open that fresh can of balls).
Naturally they hold air pressure inside them, making them very firm when new, bounce high and take a lot of spin when struck correctly.
This of course makes them ideal for both competition and recreational use due to their high level of performance.
However, one of the major downsides of pressurised tennis balls is that they quickly feel dead and soft after just a few hours of use.
As a result their performance is often short lived, as these balls lose their pressure quickly, especially when struck hard.
A prime example of this is in professional tennis tournaments, where oftentimes a fresh tin of balls is used every 7 to 9 games in order to keep the feel of them as consistent as possible throughout a match.
Another major drawback to the traditional pressurised tennis ball is that replacing them regularly can become very expensive.
If you are going to have a hit at your local club with a friend, more often than not you may expect to be using new or nearly new tennis balls.
This means that once they have been used a few times, they will likely be chewed up, discoloured and flat.
If you have ever seen an old basket or trolley of coaching balls you’ll know what we mean! Most of these balls should only be used to throw for your dog!
A Case for Pressureless Tennis Balls
Although pressurised tennis balls are very effective when being used for brief periods of time, if you are looking for a ball with a greatly extended lifespan, you may be better off going pressureless.
Most commonly used in Europe, these alternative tennis balls can aid coaching activities, make better use of ball machines and above all, save you a lot of money.
Pressureless tennis balls are made up of a harder rubber material on the inside than pressurised tennis balls, making them feel harder and more dead to strike.
This also results in the ball bouncing lower than a pressurised tennis ball.
Further to this, the thicker (yet more smooth) felt on the outside of the ball means that they do not take to spin quite as well as a pressurised tennis ball.
Therefore, it can be argued that in terms of pure performance, the pressurised tennis ball is superior to the pressureless tennis ball.
They are heavier, harder, bounce lower and don’t spin as much. Now, although on first glance these may be seen as negative characteristics, they can in fact be very beneficial in the right situations.
Due to the very long life span of pressureless tennis balls, (anywhere from 1 to 2 years), they have a much more consistent level of performance than pressurised tennis balls.
This makes them ideal for repetitive use over lengthy durations, such as using them for a ball machine.
Ball machines are often used when a player is looking to hone in on a very specific technical aspect of the game.
For example, if you are looking to improve your forehand cross court, you may set up a ball machine to feed you balls from the opposite diagonal of the court, so you can replicate the same pattern of play as you would experience in a match.
You may even place a marker in the middle of the court to recover to, helping you also train your movement.
In this scenario, using pressureless tennis balls would be beneficial. These balls are generally very consistent in terms of their performance throughout their lifespan.
They are also very inexpensive in the long term when you consider how infrequently they need replacing.
In fact, pressureless tennis balls could be described as the Benjamin Button of tennis equipment… As the hard rubber core starts to soften over time, along with the external felt becoming worn, these balls actually bounce higher and feel more responsive.
Therefore, contrary to a traditional pressurised tennis ball that will become less responsive, less bouncy and less playable over a very short space of time, the pressurised tennis ball actually improves its performance over time.
Another major factor to consider when using pressureless tennis balls is their weight. They are noticeably heavier than pressurised tennis balls, due to the thicker felt and more hard wearing rubber.
Although this may sound like a negative trait to begin with, this can actually be used to your advantage.
If you are drilling or practicing a specific skill, movement pattern or tactical aspect of tennis, it may be beneficial to use a heavier ball to force you to increase your racket head speed.
Much like using resistance band training or weights in the gym to build strength and improve your tennis, using a heavier racket, heavier ball or weighted vest can make playing with your normal equipment feel considerably easier.
Moreover, as these balls get more and more used, they will start to bounce higher.
This will in turn replicate a heavier groundstroke, therefore making it easier to train for a heavier weight of shot.
As the felt on a pressureless tennis ball degrades over time, they do not produce as much spin as when they are new.
In a match situation, this may be a huge drawback, however in a training or coaching setting this can be used to your advantage.
You will have to work harder and exaggerate your swings, in terms of power, spin generation, using your body and timing to control a heavier incoming ball.
Therefore this can effectively make the game more challenging, providing a great training tool to more advanced players.
It is worth noting however that because these balls still remain notably heavier than pressurised tennis balls, they should be used with caution.
Pressureless balls should be gradually introduced to players, so they can get used to them properly. This will help avoid injuries or stress to the arm or wrist when hitting.
Additionally, because players will have to work harder to generate their own spin with a pressureless tennis ball, they may overstretch their elbow, wrist or shoulder if not shown how to do so properly.
Should You Consider Pressureless Tennis Balls?
If you are looking for a very low cost, reusable alternative to traditional tennis balls, then you should certainly consider using pressureless tennis balls.
Their superior shelf life, consistent performance and value for money make them a great way to get the most out of a ball machine or drills session.
While their playing characteristics mean that we wouldn’t necessarily recommend using these for your next practice set, private lesson or matchplay event, pressureless tennis balls are definitely useful in lower level and highly repetitive situations.
These include high volume coaching sessions, when using a ball machine, when coaching beginners or when on a constrained budget (for example in a school or college).
Another benefit of pressureless tennis balls is storage.
Because these balls do not require a sealed, pressurised can to keep their form, they can simply be stored in a mesh bag, cardboard box or simply in your tennis bag!
You won’t need to worry about their storage having any impact on pressureless tennis balls, meaning you can just pick them up and start playing!