Michael Emmett: “We Are Using the WRONG Tennis Balls!”

Written by: Michael Emmett


***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***


After watching many of the members at the Mayfair clubs and other clubs across the GTA – I strongly believe most of you are using the wrong tennis balls. New balls out of the tin simply don’t make sense for most of you – yet, day-in-and-day-out you insist on using these fresh smelling gems, and as a result you are hitting more balls outside the lines than in the pretty blue court.

Success ratios go way down with the newer tennis balls. The older and softer the ball, the better you all play.  If you are reluctant to change the balls you are using – and most of you would be mortified if I told you to use ‘green dot’ balls – then make sure you are using balls that have been out of the can for at least a week. Fully pressurized balls are for the top players in the game – not the average tennis player whose technique is not strong enough to hit the ball as consistently as an advanced level player. Even these athletes (pros), at times, struggle to keep these slick balls in play. New balls are a server’s delight – why?  Because 220km/hour serves don’t come back.  Older balls – balls that have been in play for at least an hour – often come back and the stats show that most aces from the pros are struck when the balls are just out of the tin.

Regular tennis balls do not allow the ‘average tennis player’ to enjoy the game to the maximum extent. A regular, newly opened tennis ball flies through the air at much faster speeds than a softer, ‘deader’ ball. This game is about tactics and technique – you can’t master either of these essential areas of the game with balls that are screaming through the air. Most of you have 3 balls at a time while on court.  And most of you spend 75 percent of your time picking up balls and chatting.  Rallies are almost non-existent and I believe it’s because of the balls.

My opinion is that the ‘green dot’ ball originally designed for kids that are learning the game is a much more appropriate ball for the majority of the people playing this sport.  All players who are not considered a 5.0 or higher should be using the green dot balls to maximize their enjoyment of the game. It’s like golf. A seven handicap golfer is comparable to a 4.5 tennis player.

Most golfers try to play the championship tees because they think it will be fun to try to play where the pros play.  If you are not a 4 handicap and below -some courses worldwide insist you play from the closer tees – you should not be playing from the “tips.” The same attitude should be adopted for tennis.  Playing a course from 7,000 yards is ridiculous for most people who try to hit the little white ball – very few people are capable of breaking 100 and that is from tees that are much closer in.  Playing a golf course from nonsensical distances can slow down an entire golf course if the player or foursome is taking 5 hours to complete the round.  And this can be disastrous to some golf courses.  Tennis doesn’t have the same problems – however, if the enjoyment factor went skyward then the tennis courts would be busier and the game would flourish.

Tennis balls begin to lose their bounce as soon as the tennis ball can is opened and can be tested to determine their bounce. A ball is tested for bounce by dropping it from a height of 100 inches (2.54 m) onto concrete; a bounce between 53 and 58 inches (1.3462 – 1.4732 m) is acceptable (if taking place at sea-level and 20°C / 68°F; high-altitude balls have different characteristics when tested at sea-level).

Modern regulation tennis balls are kept under pressure (approximately two atmospheres) until initially used. These balls which are USTA certified for major championships. Balls that bounce up to industry standards when they are brand new are not suitable for the average, twice-a-week player.

This game is about confidence – when you feel at ease and can ‘swing out’ with no fear is when you are going to see improvement in your game. Nobody can improve if they are constantly scared to miss!  Green dots will allow you the confidence to hit a ball with no trepidation about the ball “flying” on you.  Learning to hit with topspin wouldn’t be nearly as important if you hit with green dot balls. Old wonky grips wouldn’t need to change if the green dot balls were in play.

Green dot balls will allow you to keep the ball in play – on average 5 more hits per point – on a much more regular basis. Five more hits will mean more exercise, more strategy and more fun. This game is more exciting and entertaining when the ball is in play and green dot balls increase everyone’s enjoyment two-fold – and in some cases even more than that.

Members don’t use these balls because they are embarrassed. The simple truth is these balls are ideal for most of our members. Many members can’t change direction on a routine cross court ball 7 out of 10 times – this is a clear indication that green dot balls should be in play.  If I went up to an average member and said you know “you should really be using a GREEN DOT ball” – they would be devastated and would likely do one of several things:

  1. quit the game
  2. Be stubborn and continue to use the new balls
  3. reluctantly use the green dot balls but only book courts 7 and 8 out of embarrassment

Watching some of you play is frustrating at times. You are so scared to miss – especially in match play that you become so cautious that your racquet is hardly moving as it swings through the strike zone. The racquet speed is almost not measurable because it is moving at 1km/hour or slower – and barely has enough steam to carry the ball over the net. This is a classic example of steering the ball, pushing the ball, bunting the ball or guiding the ball.

All of you that have taken a lesson with me have heard those words before. Well, guess what – if you used the green dot ball you would be much looser and more trusting, and accelerating through the ball wouldn’t be such an issue. Racquet speed is a critical subject for most of you in a competitive environment – those that have it are confident and usually come out on top. Those that don’t have it are never going to improve.  If you only care about putting the ball in the court and you don’t care how it goes in the court your game will hit a ceiling very quickly. These players will never advance to the levels where the game can be so much fun. Tennis is called the “Game of a Lifetime”, but it only gets fun and challenging when the ball is being hit over the net with some regularity.  We are always looking to be challenged in this game by finding opponents who are better than us because we know they won’t miss. Change the ball you are using and you will see instant gratification.

Your technique, tactics and enjoyment would all increase dramatically with this one change to your tennis game. With your new technique, new confidence and new approach you would see a massive improvement without spending zillions of dollars on private lessons.

If kids who are pounding the ball across the net on a regular basis can be told to use these green dot balls – then most of you can benefit from the reduction in ball pressure.

Ask yourself one question.  “Why do I play this game?”

Your answers are always in this order when I ask the question:

  1. To have fun
  2. To get exercise
  3. To improve my game.
  4. To release stress from other areas of life
  5. To meet new friends

The green dot balls will be beneficial for all 5 categories. There is no down side to using these balls.

So you ask – then why don’t the pros use these balls when they are competing in major championships?  The reason is simple:  the points would never end.  As things stand right now, we see the pros get engaged in 30-35 ball rallies and the points are so taxing on their bodies. The green dot balls would just exacerbate the problem.

This new initiative will be difficult to push to the tennis communities world-wide.  But from talking to several Tennis Canada certified coaches – many agree with my premise.  I really believe the game would be so much better and so much more enjoyable if you folks could get past the idea that it would be a step down to use a ball that has less pressure and a lower bounce. I hope that after reading this article you would consider giving it a shot. I have been in the tennis business for over 25 years and this is something I am absolutely convinced would help your overall experience on the tennis court.

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