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You might think that all tennis balls are created equal, but in fact manufacturers offer a wide variety of balls for different purposes.
Balls can vary in felt thickness, degree of bounce, and degree of longevity.
As the consumer you need to be well informed in order to choose the balls that are right for you.
So which ball should you choose? What is the difference between pressureless tennis balls vs. regular? Do you need training balls?
We’ll talk about all that and more in the article below, so that you can be sure you’re choosing the best performing and longest lasting tennis balls for your money.
Should you use pressureless tennis balls?
The biggest doubt most people have when buying tennis balls has to do with the difference between pressureless and regular.
Will both balls perform the same? Is one of them a high-tech replacement for the other?
There must be some reason companies have marketed new pressureless balls over the tried and true original.
And will it affect your game if you practice with one type or the other?
The choice between pressureless and standard balls boils down to tradeoff between longevity and performance.
Standard tennis balls are filled with pressurized air which causes them to spring back when they make contact with the playing surface or your racket.
When the ball bounces, the rubber outside is deformed by the force of contact, but the air inside resists this deformation and springs the rubber back into its original shape, launching the ball back into the air.
But the rubber of a ball’s outer shell is slightly porous (like the tubes of the bicycle that’s been sitting in your garage since you were a kid), and with time or use air will gradually spill out, leaving you with a flat and lifeless ball.
Manufacturers introduced pressureless balls to eliminate precisely this problem.
Pressureless balls use a different system: instead of getting their bounce from a soft shell and pressurized air, they have a springlike outer rubber that snaps back into shape when it hits the ground.
Contrary to pressurized balls which lose their bounce over time, pressureless balls can become even bouncier as the felt wears away and the rubber shell becomes more exposed.
Advantages and drawbacks
It’s easy to hear that pressureless balls never lose their bounce and assume that they are in all ways superior.
But there’s a reason people still refer to them as “practice balls”.
Pressureless balls are perfect for repetitive drilling, especially with a ball machine where the ball is put under pressure with each launch, causing it to lose air much faster.
Switching to pressureless balls will reduce the need to be constantly replacing dead balls.
But pressureless balls are still not the gameplay standard.
They can feel heavy and uncomfortable to hit, and their bounce is less consistent and simply not the “standard.”
Despite the longevity of pressureless balls, standard balls remain the best option for any type of competitive playl.
Extra or regular?
Something else you may see in the tennis aisle are so-called “extra duty” balls.
This means that the ball will have a thicker layer of felt than normal balls, which are labeled “regular duty.”
What does this mean to you?
The answer is simple: For clay and indoor play you should get regular duty, since the surfaces are soft and clay can build up in excess felt.
For grass or hard outdoor courts, on the other hand, you should use an extra duty ball which will last much longer.
The last option you might come across are specialized high-altitude balls.
The way a pressurized ball bounces depends on the difference between the air pressure inside and outside.
At higher altitudes (the ITF defines “high-altitude” as above 4,000 feet), the air pressure is lower which means that a normal ball will bounce too much.
If you’re playing at high altitudes, you should buy one of these special balls which contain less air to limit the bounce.
If not, regular altitude balls will be fine.
Last of all is an option tailored to beginners and especially children.
Different from practice balls which are simply pressureless, but made to perform the same as ordinary balls, training balls are graded with progressive levels of bounce, in order to help beginners gain confidence and power.
Training balls progress from red (the bounciest), to orange, and lastly green (the least bouncy and closest to a standard tennis ball).
Pressureless Tennis Balls vs. Regular: Which is right for you?
In conclusion, pressureless tennis balls are primarily intended for use drills and for use with a tennis ball machine; they will resist wear better than regular tennis balls and have less chance of going flat over time.
Nevertheless, pressureless balls can have slightly different characteristics from standard balls, both in terms of how they bounce and how they feel against the racket, and over time they can even become excessively bouncy.
Therefore regular balls are still preferred for actual match play, and pressureless balls are best limited to practice sessions.
You’ll also want to choose either regular or extra duty, depending on the surface of the court where you’ll be playing, and high altitude or regular depending on where you are.
Choosing the right ball is important in getting the best performance from your tennis balls, but more than that it can save you time and money down the road.