That’s why Wimbledon uses 55,000 tennis balls every year

So many elements of these glorious championships are timeless.

However, tennis balls age like a jar of cream in the sun.

The players here punish these optically yellow Slazengers with such ferocity that balls have to be replaced several times per game.

The ball children – boys and girls – only have six balls in circulation during a game. There are three balls per can, and the first two cans are in play for the initial warm-up and seven games of a game. After that, the balls are changed every nine games.

Over the course of two weeks, Wimbledon goes through 55,000 balls, including the 1,700 a day that are delivered to the practice grounds in unopened cans.

“We have a store that’s absolutely packed at the start of the tournament and now it feels like all the balls are gone, even with a week left,” said Andy Chevalier, Wimbledon’s ball distribution manager, who kicks off the iconic event with 58,000 bullets.

“So in the first few days we go through a lot and a lot. Since we are losing competitors and the matches are getting shorter because the juniors are only playing three sets instead of five, it looks like there are hardly any balls left. But you do, you’re fine.”

John Isner and Nicolas Mahut tore 42 cans of balls in 2010 while playing 183 games in a marathon match that lasted more than 11 hours over three days. With the recently added champions tiebreak at the end of the final set, 18 cans are used in a five set match and 10 cans in a three set match.

The partnership between Slazenger and Wimbledon dates back to 1902, making it the longest-running sponsorship in tennis, and perhaps any sport.

“The balls are so important and they change,” said Pam Shriver, a five-time Wimbledon doubles champion. “They’re so different from the French Open to here to what they’re playing the US Open with. No two tennis ball brands are exactly alike.”

Wilson supplies the balls for the US Open and the French Open. Dunlop makes them available for the Australian Open.

“You are looking for a lack of fluff. When a ball is fluffy, it’s a bigger ball. It will fly through the air more slowly.”

– Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash

Manufacturers aside, balls that appear identical to the untrained eye can have significant differences from a player’s perspective. Because of this, before serving, players, especially men, usually ask to be thrown three balls to them, examine them closely, and then select one to pocket and another to throw away. (Often women choose one of two.)

So what are the players looking for? What is the difference between two balls that look the same from the stands?

“It doesn’t take long for the fuzz on a ball to get fuzzy,” said Australia’s Pat Cash, who won a Wimbledon men’s singles title in 1987. “So you are looking for a lack of fluff. If a ball is fluffy, it’s a bigger ball. It will fly through the air more slowly. So when you serve, you want a ball that isn’t fluffy, you want a new ball that flies faster through the air.”

But that’s not always the case. It’s rare, but sometimes players want to slow down and instead, in Cash’s terms, use a fluffier ball.

“I can remember when I played Andre Agassi, who would just smack my serve every time,” said Patrick McEnroe, who is now an ESPN analyst like Shriver. “So maybe I’m actually looking for a fluffy ball because my serve was so bad it couldn’t hurt it anyway. Maybe I’m looking for a way to not get hurt like he blasted the return.

Australia's Nick Kyrgios meets Chilean Cristian Garin in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios returns the ball to Chile’s Cristian Garin during a quarterfinal match at Wimbledon on Wednesday.

(Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press)

Sometimes players’ ball decisions are based on superstition. When a player serves an ace, he or she may want the same ball back – Andy Murray is like that – and other players take a more systematic approach, an approach that doesn’t rely on what happened in the previous point.

“I was always rotating so I could keep track of which ball we were playing with and I was playing with a different ball each time,” said nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova, now an analyst for Tennis Channel. “I wanted the latest ball, so I was always trying to spin them.”

Sometimes there is game art involved. Consider the case of French player Richard Gasquet, who reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2007 and 2015.

“He would finish a point and the ball would land on the other side, with the ball boy on the other side,” McEnroe said. “And he would get the ball kid to throw the ball – which is very unusual, most players don’t do that.

“So some players would actually keep the ball to upset him. They would just take the ball and put it in their pocket just because they knew it must have the same ball.”

Under the chair of each Wimbledon referee are cans of balls called 3s, 5s and 7s. These are balls that have been used for about three, five or seven games. If a ball is hit into the crowd and needs to be replaced, the umpire will ask a ball kid about one of the balls in circulation and then attempt to match it to a 3, 5, or 7 in similar condition.

Fans at Wimbledon gather at a kiosk selling used tennis balls

Fans at Wimbledon can buy used balls with proceeds going to charity.

(Sam Farmer/Los Angeles Times)

And here’s the really cool part: match-used balls eliminated from match-play are delivered to a kiosk at Wimbledon grounds and sold to fans at a reasonable price, with proceeds going to charity – three pounds a ball ($3.57). a presentation box and four pounds ($4.76) for a three-ball can.

“I think it’s the best thing you can buy on the premises,” Chevalier said. “It’s brilliant.”

The fluffier the better. That’s why Wimbledon uses 55,000 tennis balls every year

Maureen Mackey

Maureen Mackey is a WSTPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Maureen Mackey joined WSTPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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