Why are tennis balls yellow in colour? What were they earlier coloured?

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Tennis balls used to be white or black until ITF brought in a new rule change in 1972

Tennis buffs, who have been following the game would know that the colour of tennis balls has not always been yellow.

The earliest Tennis balls once used to be white or black in colour. Considering the fact that the game has gone a long way from its initial days when lawn tennis was introduced in the late 1800s.

Dunlop tennis balls being used at the 2020 Australian Open (Getty Images)
Dunlop tennis balls being used at the 2020 Australian Open (Getty Images)

Balls used then were either white or black – a trend that continued until 1970s. However, the ball we see it today – a yellow small orb made an advent into the sport at a very crucial juncture, and there is a reason behind it.

Back in 2018, a debate sparked across social media platforms centred exclusively around the colour of a tennis ball. The question being whether the ball was actually yellow or something else.

According to a few, the colour of a tennis ball was green while others found it to be a mix of both. Legendary BBC documentarian Sir David Attenborough played a crucial role in how we see the tennis ball today.

For nearly a century since its formulation tennis balls were either white or black until 1972 when they took over the bright neon colour. Attenborough was working as a studio controller for the BBC back then.

A major change

In the late 1960s, he was leading the charge to broadcast the Wimbledon in colour for the first time ever. A fascinating move at that time as it brought the game to life. However, the colour of the ball made it difficult to track it, especially near the white courtliness.

This led to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) taking a look into the issue. The study that ensued found out that yellow tennis balls were easy for the home viewers to decode on screens.

An official 1972 ITF finally came into action wherein all balls were supposed to have a uniform surface and be white or yellow in colour. However, despite the TV viewers difficulties, Wimbledon did not change the colour of the ball to yellow until 1986.

The tennis ball that you see played across Grand Slams and other major tournaments has been labelled officially as ‘optic yellow’ according to the ITF.

Tennis balls used at Grand Slam events

There are several companies such as Dunlop, Slazenger, Wilson, Head Penn and Babolat among several others that manufacture the yellow tennis ball as we see it today. Let’s take a look at some of the tennis balls used in the Grand Slams events.

Australian Open

At present, the season-opening Major uses Japanese manufactured Dunlop tennis balls. The Australian authorities recently signed a commercial deal with Dunlop back in 2018 that will make them partners for the next five years.

Before Dunlop’s introduction, American sports equipment manufacturing company Wilson used to supply balls for the Australian Open.

French Open

Until last year, French company Babolat used to supply balls for the clay-court tournament. Prior to it, Dunlop used to the official sponsor for the Roland Garros tournament till 2011.

Babolat produces tennis balls for the French Open.
A ballboy holds the 2019 French Open tennis balls made by Babolat. (Getty Images)

However, from 2020 onwards Babolat will be replaced by Wilson as the former ended their partnership with the French Open.

Wimbledon

English manufacturing company Slazenger has been sponsoring balls for the grass-court tournament now for a very long time.

The two share one of the oldest partnerships in sporting good history – a relation that started since 1902. Unlike other Majors, Wimbledon and Slazenger share an unparalleled bond that has seen the partnership thrive for almost more than 100 years.

US Open

Wilson has been the preferred customer when it comes to the US Open. For over forty years Wilson has been sponsoring balls since the US Open’s transition from grass courts to hard courts in 1978.

A Wilson tennis ball used at the US Open lying on the hard court.
A Wilson tennis ball used at the US Open lying on the hardcourt. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Masters tournaments such as Indian Wells and Miami use tennis balls supplied by sports manufacturing company Head Penn.

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