Tennis Balls Can Be Such a Drag

A Report from Tennis Warehouse University

multiple fuzz

I know you’ve seen this. . .

Right before your favorite pro goes to serve, a complicated dance ensues between player and ball-person. The player descends into what appears to be an OCD ritual, rifling through several different balls, looking intently at each one, shuffling them back and forth until finally arriving at the right one. The most memorable instance of this behavior occurred at the US Open several years ago. I watched as a very famous Spaniard paused long and hard over a particular ball, choosing eventually to throw it back to the ball person only to recall it two seconds later with a look of worried intensity and mild suspicion. He was, as many of you know, looking for the ball with the least amount of exposed fuzz (or at least that is what I hope he was doing).

high fuzz

But why? The theory, by no means a secret, is that the ball with the least amount of unruly fluff moves through the air with more speed, an important fact for those hoping to steal crucial milliseconds from unsuspecting opponents. This is why even savvy high school players are now reserving their first serves for the ball that resembles a Marine crewcut as opposed to the Bob Marley dishevelment that you see at the end of long clay court session, in the rain, where the ball becomes a waterlogged, dirt weighted grapefruit that slows down and sits up nicely for your opponent.

turbulent

Our very own Tennis Warehouse University Professor decided to investigate the relationship between ball speed and wind drag, hoping to explain what really happens to a ball in the air, and why a cleaner ball travels faster. To perform this experiment he and Professor Rod Cross fired balls from a ball machine and measured the change in speed between two locations in the trajectory.

To make a long story short: the pros are not crazy. To find out why, check out this experiment: Click HERE!