Tennis Technology

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) approved a two-year rule change to test different types of tennis balls for different court surfaces.

The rule change, which was approved in July and could be implemented in January, stipulates three types of balls:

Wilson and Penn, which combined make up the vast majority of ball sales in the U.S., are expected to participate in the experiment, although it is estimated that each will spend about half a million dollars to retool their factories for a project the ITF could choose to discontinue in two years. Dunlop has already built prototypes and conducted preliminary play tests.

According to Andrew Coe, the ITF's technical director, the bigger ball will have an instant benefit in the recreational game, where it will be legal on any surface, from the teaching court to tournament play. Because of the big ball's aerodynamic drag, Coe says that on a hard court, it will have the speed that today's ball has on clay. Also, a serve that today is hit at 120 m.p.h. will move through the air 10 percent slower with the bigger ball.

For recreational players, the bigger, slower ball will offer a larger target and more time to set up for shots. This in turn will reduce unforced errors and extend rallies, making the game more of an aerobic workout - players will spend more time hitting and less time picking up.

The ITF thinks the bigger ball will be especially effective in attracting new players to the game. 'People have changed, which means tennis-which has always been a difficult game to learn- has to change, too,' Coe says. "Young people are after instant gratification. There are too many other sports they can get into and perform at a decent level immediately."

Industry sources say that the bigger ball most likely -won't be ready for distribution to retailers until the summer of 2000, at the earliest.

Edited by Caryn Prime