This time 12 months ago, Bernard Tomic crashed out of Australian Open qualifying and dealt with that setback by entering Australia’s version of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here.
Before you ask: yes, that actually happened. He left after three days and Fiona O’Loughlin won.
Now, on the eve of the season’s first Grand Slam, the mercurial 26-year-old is back to what he does best – hitting a good ball and winding people up with a sizzling take.
At the Kooyong Classic exhibition event this week, Tomic directed his aim right at the balls, the tournament’s balls that is.
“I don’t know too much (about the balls), but I don’t feel like it is that good of a ball. I think they’re pretty cheap from what I’ve heard.”
The ball manufacturer Dunlop and Tennis Australia must be delighted with young Bernard’s input having signed a five-year deal to supply the same balls for all levels of Australian tennis.
“I don’t know what the Australian Open has done, but it is terrible,” Tomic also said, diplomatically.
This is the point where I’m supposed to lay into Tomic and bring up one of his choice quotes…like this one from a press conference last year:
I just count money, that’s all I do. I count my millions. You go do what I did. You go make 13-14 million. Good luck guys. Bye bye.
Lovely words there, but with regard to the fuzzy yellow things, the Aussie isn’t the first pro to be utterly confused and bemused by the spherical situation on tour.
You probably know that the Premier League, NBA and MLB have official match balls that are used for every fixture of the season.
But, what if I told you that there’s a different tennis ball for each of the four grand slams?
As of this season, the official grand slam ball suppliers are Babolat (Roland Garros), Slazenger (Wimbledon), Wilson (US Open) and Bernie’s favourite, Dunlop (Australian Open). Wilson previously provided balls to the Australian Open before the switch last August.
Here’s a factoid for your Tinder profile: Slazenger’s relationship (see what I did) with Wimbledon predates airplanes, dating back to 1902.
Along with the slams, there are also different ball manufacturers for the European clay court season, North American hardcourt swing, the Olympics and on and on.
The various ball changes lead to confusion and demand adjustment from players. Roger Federer isn’t a huge fan of the current situation, recently saying that he’s “given up on telling the tour we should play with the same balls everywhere we can”.
Not only are balls different for tournaments throughout the year, but they can be different between genders too.
The United States Tennis Association say that “men and women use the same ball in terms of size, pressure and design.” However, the US Open and its warmup events use balls with extra duty felt for men’s matches and regular duty felt for women’s.
It’s thought that the regular duty balls help speed up the women’s game, while the extra duty ones slow down the dudes. The balls can get mixed up as happened in Miami 2016 when Andy Murray criticised an umpire after a WTA ball found its way on court.
Bet you didn’t think tennis balls could be so confusing and interesting at the same time. Just like Radiohead really.
With that, I’ll leave you with some weird tennis ball facts to wow your mates and frighten off potential suitors:
- Tennis balls are composed of a pressurised rubber core with felt glued to the outside. In an earlier version of the sport (real tennis) wooden balls were used.
- Traditionally white in colour, balls changed colour to neon yellow/green in 1972 to improve visibility for TV broadcasts. Wimbledon didn’t switch colour until 1986.
- Finally, when you see a player examining balls before a serve, there is a method behind it. On first serve, they are looking for the ball with the least fuzz as it theoretically moves faster through the air. This doesn’t really apply at club level where any service over the net is met with relief.