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While it may seem at first glance like all tennis balls are the same, a trip to your local sporting goods store will be enough to show that this is not the case.
In fact, the number of variations, features, and terms can be enough to make your head spin.
Does it matter if you choose pressureless or pressurized balls? Practice tennis balls vs. regular?
And should you go for regular or extra duty? But have no fear!
Fortunately, it’s not nearly as complicated as it may seem. In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to know to choose the best tennis balls for you.
Pressurized or not?
The most common question about tennis balls is regarding pressureless balls, sometimes referred to as practice balls.
Do these hit the same as the pressurized balls most of us are used to? What would be the reason for choosing pressureless over pressurized?
The answer comes down to longevity.
Most tennis balls use pressurized air inside to give them the necessary bounce.
Every time the ball hits the ground the outer shell compresses, and the force of the compressed air pushes back causing the ball to bounce back into the air.
But if you’ve had the same can of balls for an extended period of time, you’ll know that this air has a tendency to leak out, both as a result of gameplay and as a natural process over time.
This leaves us with balls that are flat and essentially useless (except maybe as dog toys).
Pressureless balls are designed to prevent this problem. Rather than using air to give them bounce, pressureless balls are built with a firm shell structure that causes them to bounce.
Interestingly, contrary to pressurized balls, pressureless balls have a tendency to become more bouncy over time, as the felt coating gets worn down and exposes the bouncy shell.
Pros and cons of each
You may be thinking at this point that the pressureless tennis ball is the solution to all of your ball woes.
But it is called the practice ball for a reason.
Pressureless tennis balls hold up great under repetitive use, especially with tennis ball machines that puts a lot of wear on balls.
Tennis ball machines squeeze the balls a bit as they pass through the set of wheels, and this can cause balls to go flat much quicker.
Going pressureless is a great way to get more out of your practice balls so you’re not replacing them constantly.
But pressureless balls still don’t match their pressurized counterparts in terms of comfort and feel.
Some players claim they feel heavy to hit, and their bounce is slightly different than what most players are used to.
For this reason, pressurized balls are still the international standard for competitive play, from the amateur to the professional level.
Extra or regular?
Another consideration when buying balls is the thickness of the felt on the ball — regular or extra duty tennis balls.
Balls with a thicker felt coat are referred to as “extra duty,” while balls with a comparatively thinner coat are called “regular duty.”
But which one do you need? The answer here is relatively straight forward.
For clay courts and indoor courts, you’ll want regular duty.
These surfaces are softer, and additionally, clay can accumulate if the felt is too thick, affecting how the ball performs.
If, on the other hand, you are playing on grass or hard outdoor surfaces like concrete, an extra duty ball will hold up much better over time.
One final option that you may see on the shelves is a special ball for high altitudes.
These are pressurized balls, but they are filled with slightly less air.
At higher altitudes, defined by the ITF as above 4,000 feet, air pressure is lower which causes standard balls to be bouncier by comparison.
Therefore, if you’ll be playing at high altitudes then this is the type of ball you’ll want to pick up.
Otherwise, these balls will just feel slightly flat and won’t work as they should.
Before we conclude there is one more type of ball we should mention, and that is a training ball.
Not to be confused with the pressureless practice balls mentioned above, these specialized balls are designed for children or people who are just learning to play.
They have varying degrees of bounce, beginning at red (the bounciest), followed by orange, and finally green (the last stage before moving to a standard ball).
These balls are great for helping beginners to develop both technique and confidence on the court.
Practice Tennis Balls vs. Regular: Which should you choose?
To sum up, the term “practice ball” generally refers to pressureless tennis balls.
These balls are ideal for use in drilling and with tennis ball machines, as they hold up better against wear over time as compared to the standard pressurized balls.
However, practice balls have slightly different characteristics in terms of hardness and bounce, and traditional pressurized balls are still preferred in gameplay settings.
Other options you’ll have to choose between are regular and extra duty, depending on the surface you’ll be using, and high altitude or standard, depending of course on the altitude of the court.
Each of the above options is best suited to certain situations, and choosing the right ball for the job can save you lots of stress and money down the road!
Featured image credit: DepositPhotos.com