For a keen tennis player, there’s arguably nothing better than cracking open a fresh can of tennis balls.
Many players love the feeling of playing with brand new balls. They bounce higher, feel light and lively and travel faster through the air.
But, whilst new tennis balls are certainly worth investing in, not all balls are created equal.
So, is there such a thing as a ‘best tennis ball’? Or can you play equally well with any fresh set of balls?
Well, as it happens there are a number of factors to consider when buying your next tin of balls. These will depend on your age, playing ability and personal preferences.
Types of Tennis Balls
Many club level tennis players may have only come across traditional yellow tennis balls.
However, there are quite a few variants of tennis balls, that cater for all ages, abilities and uses.
So, if you are a junior or beginner just getting into tennis, or perhaps using a tennis ball machine, you may want to explore using one of these alternative tennis ball types.
Yellow Tennis Balls
The traditional tennis balls we all know and love, yellow tennis balls are popular all around the world.
Used for beginner coaching all the way up to the ATP World Tour, these have by far the most big brand contributors in the tennis ball market.
There has been a lot of technological advancement in tennis balls over the last couple of decades, improving ball performance, consistency and playability.
However, there are a variety of alternatives that players can use depending on their needs.
Green Tennis Balls
The slightly softer, less pressurized tennis ball, green balls are ideal for teenagers going through growth spurts and developing physically.
They bounce slightly lower than full yellow balls and require less strength to control.
Green balls are usually used by junior players that are improving their technique, because they are able to hit with fuller, longer strokes without having to worry about the ball floating long as much.
These balls may also be used by adult beginners who are getting back into tennis, as they are easier to control and feel lighter to hit.
Orange Tennis Balls
Orange balls are generally aimed at juniors aged 8 or 9 years old, as they are even softer and lighter than green balls.
This makes them more manageable to play with for younger players, opening up the game of tennis to a wider audience.
Orange balls are also used for cardio tennis, a fitness based tennis session which focuses on high repetitions and cardiovascular health rather than tactics or technique.
Cardio tennis can be played by people with minimal tennis experience, meaning that orange balls are much more appropriate for this audience than full yellow balls.
Red Tennis Balls
Aimed at the youngest of tennis players, red tennis balls help bring players aged 5 or 6 years old into the game.
Whilst orange, green and yellow tennis balls are roughly a similar size, red balls are significantly larger, softer and have a thicker felt lining.
They travel slowly through the air, giving younger players plenty of time to react and get ready for their next shot.
This also promotes extended rallies, helping young players to improve their consistency.
Touch Tennis Balls
Touch tennis has become a popular offshoot of the regular game over the past decade.
Played on much smaller courts, with lower nets and with foam balls, touch tennis was initially aimed at junior players.
However, it has now become popular with adult players, with a touch tennis professional tour attracting some of the world’s best talent.
Touch tennis balls are made of dense foam, slightly larger than red tennis balls and are notably heavier than traditional foam balls used for mini tennis coaching.
Pressureless Tennis Balls
Finally, pressureless tennis balls are most commonly used with tennis ball machines and in repetitive drilling sessions.
Their harder rubber core and more substantial outer felt make them harder and heavier than traditional yellow tennis balls.
They bounce lower than ‘normal’ tennis balls when they are new, but as the rubber core starts to soften, these balls will actually bounce higher as they wear.
This means their performance is consistent across their life span, contrary to conventional pressurized tennis balls that lose their bounce relatively quickly.
What Makes a Good Tennis Ball
Tennis balls that will maintain their performance for a relatively long period of time are more cost effective and will generally have better playability.
You should therefore look for tennis balls that are relatively durable, without compromising too much on quality.
Extra duty tennis balls will focus predominantly on the durability of the ball, whereas regular duty focuses more on playability than wear and tear.
Extra or heavy dirty tennis balls tend to have a more robust felt coating, meaning they can withstand more abrasive surfaces such as hard courts for longer.
They tend to last longer and be heavier than regular duty balls.
Playing with a tennis ball that bounces consistently will allow you to play with more confidence on the court, since you won’t be second guessing where to swing your racket every other shot!
So picking a high quality tennis ball brand that is reputable and produces high performing, reliable balls will lead you to finding the best tennis balls out there.
Other Things to Consider
How high a particular tennis ball bounces needs to be considered before they are played with.
Some lighter tennis balls will bounce higher, which can be beneficial for softer surfaces like clay.
Whereas a low bouncing, heavier ball may be preferable for use on slick hard courts or grass courts.
The thickness and weave of the felt on a tennis ball will determine how much the ball fluffs up and how long it will stay ‘fresh’.
A thicker, fluffy felt will feel softer and carry more spin, whereas a more bald ball with more compact flet will shoot through the air.
Thicker felt generally fluffs up more quickly, however this can also vary depending on the weave of the felt.
For example, a fluffy Slazenger Wimbledon ball tends to fluff up quickly, as does a compact felt WIlson US Open ball. So it really depends on the performance of the individual ball with this one.
Heavier tennis balls tend to bounce lower and be used for harder surfaces due to their extra durability.
They can withstand impact from more abrasive, gritty hard courts for longer than a lighter weight ball.
Lighter balls tend to bounce higher and be used for softer surfaces, but can also be used when trying to speed up the playing characteristics of a fast hard court.
Lighter balls require less force to be struck hard, so will travel through the air faster than heavier balls.
Finally, the cost of a tube of tennis balls is also an important point to consider.
Whilst it is important to invest in good quality tennis balls, it is also worth understanding which type of balls you are after so you don’t waste money on the wrong type for you.
However, with so many varying factors at play here, it can be difficult to understand which the best ball is for your individual needs.
The Best Tennis Balls For Each Surface
Best Tennis Balls for Grass Courts
Slazenger Wimbledon Ball
The stand out tennis ball for playing on grass is the Slazenger Wimbledon ball.
Used at the Championships themselves, these are some of the most iconic tennis balls out there.
They feel plush and buttery straight out of the can, making them ideal to use on zippy grass courts.
These heavier balls stay nice and low when hitting slice serves on grass, whilst their softness makes them very playable.
Whilst this reduces their durability on hard courts, these balls are the go-to option for playing on grass, artificial grass or soft carpet courts.
Wilson Premier Grass Court Balls
The Wilson Premier Grass Court Balls are ITF approved and specifically designed for grass court use.
These are a good alternative to the Slazenger Wimbledon tennis balls, as they are relatively heavy, medium paced and stay low on the playing surface.
Best Tennis Balls for Clay Courts
Babolat French Open Regular Duty
Back in 2011, Babolat took over as the official ball supplier of the French Open, and their French Open regular duty ball is one of the best performing balls on the market.
For regular duty balls, they maintain their playability remarkably well. They are light, lively and retain a decent level of bounce through their lifespan.
Babolat Team Clay
The Babolat Team Clay tennis balls offer a more playable felt covering and lighter version of the traditional Babolat Team ball.
They complement the surface with their higher bounce and compact felt, meaning that less clay is absorbed into the ball’s surface.
These also stay fresher and cleaner for longer than the Babolat French Open balls surprisingly!
Wilson Tour Clay
These lighter weight tennis balls from Wilson are equipped with a protective coating which protects them from the elements.
This means they are less likely to become clogged up with clay, or fluff up too much when playing in humid conditions.
These balls will maintain their high performance for longer on clay than regular all court balls, making them a great choice for the surface.
Dunlop ATP Regular Duty
Although the Dunlop ATP Regular Duty ball has become the official ball of the Australian Open, it is also great to use on clay courts.
Its light weight and soft feel makes it ideal for taking on heavy spin, whilst its unique felt stops it from getting too burdened with excess clay.
Dunlop have really found their form recently, and becoming the official ATP Tour tennis ball certainly proves that!
Best Tennis Balls for Hard Courts
Wilson US Open Extra Duty
The official ball of the US Open, the Wilson US Open Extra Duty is arguably the pinnacle of hard court offerings in the market.
This highly durable, lightweight ball zips through the air thanks to its compact felt design.
This ball stands up well to even the most abrasive hard courts, whilst maintaining a good level of playability for an extra duty ball.
These balls aren’t cheap though, so be prepared to pay a premium for these outstanding tennis balls.
Penn ATP Regular Duty
A popular choice among professional tournaments, the Penn ATP Regular Duty ball is the official supplier of the ATP Masters events.
These highly visible balls are easy on the eye and provide a consistent bounce, but are not the most durable in the world.
If you are looking for a high quality ball for short sessions or match use, then these are a great option for you.
However, these will have to be replaced often, so if you are planning on using them for coaching or practice sessions, pick another ball!
The Tecnifibre X-One tennis ball is a soft, lighter tennis ball that focuses on playability and speed rather than durability.
Offering a unique feel, this ball is used by some professional ATP 250 and 500 tournaments to speed up play, and is one of the most desirable balls on the market.
For a regular duty ball however, their durability is quite reasonable. This is a plus point considering the price of the X-Ones.
They are one of the most expensive options you can go for, so try not to lose any of them when you’re out on court!
Singling out one ‘best tennis ball’ is a very difficult task indeed.
With so many factors contributing to what makes a great ball, it becomes a very individual process that needs to be considered with time and thought.
Court surface, playing ability, experience level and budget all play their part in determining the best tennis ball for you.
So, be sure to do your research and pick the right tennis ball for your circumstances. It will certainly make a difference out there!