Paris. No one went quite so far as to blame a day one loss at the French Open on — or credit a victory to — the different tennis balls being used this year at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
There were, though, plenty of opinions about the switch of spheres.
They’re harder, most agreed. They’re fluffier, a few thought. They’re better, some suggested, for players such as Rafael Nadal, who use a lot of spin. They’re faster, at least at first, then tend to slow after a few games, was the consensus. They’ll help powerful servers.
Any of those elements could affect matches, players said, and possibly their health.
“In the locker room, a lot of the girls … [are] coming in with a lot of shoulder issues. They say the balls are pretty hard,” Bethanie Mattek-Sands said on Sunday after coming back to beat Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
“I think it kind of translates to they’re going fast through the air,” the American said. “I don’t mind that. I actually like it if it’s fast-paced.”
Under a five-year contract that begins in 2011, the French Open is moving to Babolat balls from Dunlop. It’s not every day that a Grand Slam tournament changes its ball brand. Or even every century.
Wimbledon, for example, has used Slazenger since 1902. The US Open has used Wilson since the late 1970s; the Australian Open switched to Wilson in 2006.
Pro tennis players can be rather fussy about the equipment they use, noticing any slight tweak as they move from tournament to tournament. The European clay circuit events leading up to the French Open use Dunlop balls.
“The balls are pretty strange,” 14th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland said after winning on Sunday. “Obviously I do notice a big difference from last year.”
Monday’s schedule features Novak Djokovic, 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, defending champion Francesca Schiavone and No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki. They’ve already had a chance to practice in Paris with the new French Open balls.
And they’ve had a chance, like others, to render judgment.
“The balls are very, very fast, so it’s really difficult to control,” Djokovic said.
There are more than 300 types of balls approved each year by the International Tennis Federation, and tournaments must pick from that list.
“Every brand that is submitted for approval is subjected to number of tests — mass, weight, size, the diameter of the ball, a test for compression to see how stiff it is or how resistant it is, and finally how high it bounces,” said Stuart Miller, head of the ITF’s science and technical department.
Three-time major finalist Andy Murray wishes balls could remain consistent, at least as the tour swings through a stretch of events on a particular surface.
“For the players’, wrists, joints, your elbow and shoulder, it makes sense to just stick with the same ball,” Murray said.
“I would just rather we played with the same ball throughout each part of the season. That’s what I would prefer. Well, I think that’s what most of the tour would prefer, to be honest.”