Tennis balls are making players suffer: “They are killing our bodies”

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NEW YORK – Complaints about balls in tennis have transcended eras; there hasn’t been a season when players haven’t issued some protest against the yellow sphere.

“Nowadays everyone complains about everything. The sun,the rain, the court, the balls… the conditions are the same for everyone, the balls are different in every tournament and that’s it,” Goran Ivanisevic tells CLAY while he waits for Novak Djokovic to arrive for practice on Court P1 of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre.

The Croatian stopped playing tennis professionally in 2004. He was world number two in 1994 and has been coaching Djokovic for the past four years. Carlos Gómez Herrera, the Serb’s personal sparring, talks about the object in question with former tennis player and current ESPN commentator José Luis Clerc. The Argentine asks the Spaniard for a ball after he just opens a can. “How hard they are!” exclaims the winner of 25 tournaments on the tour between the 70s and 80s. “Yes they are hard, but they change after you hit them for a little while,” replies the Spanish.

The three-time US Open champion arrives on court more than 15 minutes late, exchanges a few medium-intensity shots with Gomez Herrera for some minutes, and soon puts numbers to keep going the conversation. “These balls change 30 percent after the first hit,” he comments to his clan members.

Djokovic talks with his team during the afternoon practice // SEBASTIAN VARELA

It happens that in this US Open the claims about these balls, and the constant variation in the tour, have intensified. A tweet this Saturday from Vasek Pospisil added fuel to the fire.

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“They are killing our bodies,” the Canadian tweeted.

It doesn’t matter that Pospisil is the 192nd ranked, nor that he has never won ATP titles. His influence is important, because he is one of the leaders of the PTPA (Professional Tennis Players Association) the players’ union created by Djokovic and company to defend the interests of the athletes.

There were discussions a few years back that the ATP/WTA wanted to “slow the game down” to have longer points for fans. The balls have been getting incrementally heavier and surprise surprise, it’s killing our bodies. Almost every every player I’ve spoken to feels the same way. I’ve never seen more wrist, elbow, and shoulder injuries in the locker room. If these changes to the ball don’t start getting reversed, it’s only going to get worse. Please, ATP & WTA start listening”, the Canadian wrote.

Pospisil’s shot drew a few responses from players on the circuit, the most notable one from Mardy Fish, who says tennis has left his arm damaged for life, and that he needs a good warm-up before playing baseball in his backyard with his son: “I’ve had problems with my arm every day because of the different weight of the balls from week to week. Now I need 15 minutes to warm up my arm and play catch with my son.”

The PTPA’s executive comitee

Some others celebrated the quality of the balls on duty in New York. “The tournament it’s quite slow. The balls don’t last long, they get like bears in practically two games. And that gives me more time to do my tennis, the slower the court, the better for me,” Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina commented earlier last week.

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If Carlos Alcaraz could change one rule of tennis, it would be that all events have the same ball. The solution also proposed by former tennis player Greg Rusedski. Would it be possible? “When I played 30 years ago there was already the same discussion. The solution is to have the same felt, pressure and weight in balls. The problem is that the tournaments have different sponsors,” said the 1997 Flushing Meadows runner-up.

Thus, with commercial agreements in between, the wish of the current world number one and so many other tennis players runs the risk of not being heard.

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