I love the sound of a pressurized can of tennis balls being opened. It always motivates me for the game of tennis that I am about to play. However, all too soon the tennis balls seem to go dull and flat and it is time to open another new can of tennis balls. More than once I have asked myself if tennis balls last longer in the can. So, I set about finding out.
Pressurized tennis balls slowly begin to lose pressure the moment the seal of a can of new balls has been popped. The rubber inner layer of a tennis ball is porous and the gas in the ball slowly leaks out until pressure inside the ball equalizes with the air outside the ball.
Let’s take a look at the factors that cause tennis balls to lose their bounce and what we can do to extend the life of our tennis balls.
Do Tennis Balls Last Longer In The Can?
I play tennis at a recreational level and when I open a can of pressurized tennis balls I can get anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks of use from them before they start going a bit flat. When playing competitive tennis the lifespan of tennis balls is between 1 and 3 hours. At the professional level, tennis balls are replaced every 9 games which equate to an hour or less.
The longer you keep your pressurized tennis balls in their sealed can the better, so only pop the seal on a new can of balls when absolutely necessary. After the seal has been popped, keeping them in the can won’t increase their chance of staying pressurized.
However, I keep my tennis balls in the can between visits to the tennis court as I find it easier to pick up the can and my racket when I go to play tennis than to search for tennis balls that have rolled around.
If you want to increase the lifespan of your tennis balls you can keep them in a container that can be pressurized via a valve that allows you to pump in additional air.
What Factors Determine The Lifespan Of A Tennis Ball?
The harder a tennis ball is hit, the faster it will lose pressure. Similarly, tennis balls begin to lose fuzziness when constantly hit with a lot of spins.
I have also noticed that when I am training tennis and hitting a ball against a practice wall, the ball will begin to go a bit dull and soft more quickly.
The best type of tennis to play if your goal is making your tennis balls last longer is at a casual/recreational level where often the ball is neither hit hard nor with a large amount of spin.
All tennis balls will eventually wear out, and some will wear out more quickly than others, leaving them feeling dead or heavy when you hit them.
Dead tennis balls lose their responsiveness when you hit them, they don’t bounce as high, and they also tend to go a bit dull in color.
When I played junior tennis competitively our worn-down tennis balls usually ended up in the coach’s practice basket.
Some people use their dead tennis balls as toys to play fetch with their dogs. If you are using old tennis balls as dog toys you should pay close attention to the ball and replace it as soon as the furry outer layer of the ball starts to come off as pieces of that outer layer can cause a blockage in your pet’s intestines.
During professional tournaments, both on the ATP men’s tour and the WTA women’s tour, tennis balls are replaced every 9 games with the exception of the first set of balls used at the start of the tennis match.
The first set of tennis balls used at the start of a professional tennis match will get replaced after only 7 games of active play to compensate for the fact that this first set of balls was used during the pre-match warmup.
Because I only play tennis at a casual recreational level, the tennis balls that I use start to lose their bounce after about 2 weeks or after 3 or 4 playing sessions. I keep my spare tennis balls in their unopened tube until I absolutely need to replace them as the tube is pressurized and keeps the balls “fresh”.
Even unopened tubes of tennis balls have an expiry date of 2 years after manufacture. The reason that tennis balls gradually lose pressure is that the inner layer of a tennis ball is made from rubber that is slightly porous on a microscopic level. So, the gas in the ball slowly leaks out of the tennis ball through the porous rubber over a 2-4 week period until the pressure in the ball has equalized to the outside air pressure.
The way that I test the tennis balls that I play with is I squeeze them in my hand and if they feel slightly squishy I know that it is time to replace them. Old tennis balls also sound duller when I bounce them using my racket.
Another way to test whether an old tennis ball needs to be retired to the practice basket is to bounce it alongside a new ball and compare how high both of them bounce.
It is possible to recycle/repurpose worn-out tennis balls when they start to lose their bounce. At first, my old tennis balls go into my practice basket for when I go down to the court to practice my service.
Tennis balls that are so flat that I can’t even use them in my practice basket become toys for my dog.
Whenever I wash my down duvet and my camping sleeping bag I will add a few old tennis balls into the drier so that the down feathers don’t make clumps as they dry.
Tournament-level tennis requires pressurized tennis balls. Both pressurized and pressureless balls can be used for ball machines and tennis lessons.
Either type can be used for recreational-level tennis, though pressureless balls tend to be a bit heavier as they are made from thicker rubber.
I keep a couple of pressureless balls in my practice bag for when I head down to the courts on my own to hit balls against the practice wall.
Pressurized tennis balls are filled with compressed air in the case of cheaper balls or nitrogen in the case of top-quality balls. Nitrogen gas molecules are slightly bigger and so nitrogen-filled tennis balls will deflate slower than those filled with compressed air.
By comparison, non-pressurized tennis balls will be made from thicker rubber and filled with micro-cell foam that will help the ball hold similar characteristics to those of a new pressurized tennis ball.
The easiest way to make your tennis balls last longer after you have bought them is to keep them in their pressurized can until the last minute before using them in a game. The moment the seal of a new can of tennis balls has been popped, the tennis balls will begin to lose pressure.
There are also special containers that you can buy that allow you to pressurize the container with a pump once you have put tennis balls into the container. Keeping the container pressurized between sessions on the tennis court can make your tennis balls last up to ten times longer to the point where the outer fabric layer of the ball becomes worn out rather than the balls losing pressure.