When I first played tennis as a junior I never kept spare balls in my pockets when I was serving. As a result, I developed bad habits that I have struggled with for years – even after I started using my pockets to hold spare tennis balls.
Tennis players keep a spare ball in their pocket when servicing to save time between their first service and their second service should their first service be a fault. During casual play, the receiving player might put a ball into their pocket in order to prevent it from rolling across the court.
Let’s take a closer look at why it is a good idea to keep spare balls in your pocket when playing the service.
The main reason why tennis players keep balls in their pockets is to save time between their first service and their second service should the first service be a fault. Generally speaking, it would only be the player serving that keeps a spare ball in their pocket, especially in tournament play when all loose balls on the court will have been cleared by ball girls/boys.
During casual games, any player can put a ball into their pocket if there is a risk that the ball could roll across the court, causing a player to trip and fall or roll an ankle. If my opponent is serving and their first service is a fault, I will often catch that ball and put it in my pocket, keeping the court clear of loose balls for safety reasons.
When I first started playing tennis as a junior, my tennis shorts did not have pockets large enough to hold a tennis ball. What I had to do was hold two balls in my left hand while playing a service. The trouble with this approach was, that if my first service was in and the point was continuing I would have this spare ball in my left hand for the remainder of the point. As juniors, we were taught to play our backhand double handed which was incredibly difficult for me to do with a ball in my left hand.
That was how I got into the bad habit of playing a single-handed backhand with too much slice spin because my young wrist was not yet strong enough to control a flat backhand or to use any topspin.
Tennis players bounce the ball before serving in order to bring their full focus onto the ball that they are about to be serving. Another reason for bouncing the ball before serving is so that you can incorporate a ritual into your service and actually improve the consistency of your tennis service.
What I used to do when playing tennis as a junior is that I would bounce the ball with my racket a few times before catching the ball in my left hand. I’d then bounce the ball twice with my left hand catching it each time before tossing the ball to play my service.
By doing the same ritual before each and every service, I was able to focus my mind fully on the service that I was about to play and bring my breathing under control if I was out of breath from playing the previous point.
In professional tournaments, like atp tour, however, players cannot bounce the ball indefinitely before playing a service. Professional players have a time limit of 25 seconds to play the service or that service will be called a fault by the umpire for overstepping the time limit.
This is why professional players will always keep a spare ball in their pocket in case they need to play the second service. Having a spare ball in their pocket means that they have a few additional seconds in order to still their mind before playing their second service without running foul of the 25-second time limit for a second service.
Tennis players will take three balls before a service point in order to select the smoothest and the fluffiest of the three before discarding the ball that is neither the smoothest nor the fluffiest. The smoothest ball will be for the first service and the fluffiest ball will be for the second service. This fluffiest ball is the one that they will put into their pocket in case they need to play a second service.
The reason for choosing a smooth ball for the first service is that a smooth ball travels through the air faster, and ball speed is the goal when playing the first service. The fluffier ball that players put into their pockets is chosen for the second service because it is possible to use more spin on a fluffy ball. Fluffy balls also travel through the air slower, making it possible to play a second service with greater Control.
Irrespective of whether a tennis player is given three balls or 4 balls they will discard all but the smoothest ball and the fluffiest ball. The smoothest ball will be kept for the first service and the fluffiest ball will be put into their pocket in case it is needed for a second service.
Smooth balls travel through the air faster and so work better for a first service. Fluffy balls not only travel slower, but they are also easier to spin and hence are better for a second service when more control is needed.
Where a female tennis player keeps a spare tennis ball while serving is determined by how her tennis outfit has been designed.
Some tennis dresses and skirts have side pockets that are big enough to hold a tennis ball. More often, the pocket for holding the spare tennis ball will be their skirt’s undershorts. If neither the skirt nor the undershorts have pockets, players will either tuck the ball under the spandex of the undershorts or use a ball holder that can be clipped to the back of the skirt’s waistband.