USTA: Tours, players part of tennis ball evaluation

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The United States Tennis Association on Wednesday addressed the use of different tennis balls for male and female players at the US Open, a week after reigning world No. 1 Iga Swiatek called the balls used at the year’s last major “horrible” and questioned why the disparity was necessary.

“The USTA works closely with the WTA and ATP Tour, their player councils and our brand partner on an annual basis to determine what type of balls they recommend playing with for the coming US Open,” the organization said in a statement to ESPN. “These decisions are made months in advance in order to stock the nearly 100,000 competition balls used at the US Open every year. A number of factors are considered in these decisions, and the USTA will continue to follow the recommendations of the tours and their player councils to determine which balls are utilized during the US Open.”

The US Open is the only Grand Slam tournament to feature different balls in the men’s and women’s matches.

Swiatek’s comments came during a news conference at last week’s Western & Southern Open.

“I don’t know why [the tennis balls] are different than men’s ones,” she said. “I don’t know, like, 15 years ago probably women had some elbow injuries because the balls were heavier and they changed them to women’s balls, but right now we are so physically well prepared that I don’t think it would happen. Plus we can’t get those balls in Europe, or actually, when we buy them at store, they are totally different than the tournament balls, so when I’m practicing with US Open balls at home [in Poland], I’m practicing with men’s ones …

“I feel, it’s really hard to control [the women’s balls], but everybody has same conditions, so we are trying to deal with that. I don’t get why they are different, honestly.”

Swiatek said she and Paula Badosa, the current world No. 4, had complained previously to WTA CEO and chairman Steve Simon and asked if the women’s ball could be changed to the one used by the men.

Badosa backed Swiatek’s comments in an Instagram story post Friday.

“Totally agree,” she wrote below a screenshot of Swiatek’s remarks. “These are really unfavorable conditions for the players.”

In a statement to ESPN last week, Amy Binder, the WTA’s senior vice president of global communications, said the organization was listening to player concerns and would explore the matter further.

“The WTA has always utilized regular felt balls for hardcourt play, and we have now begun to hear from a select number of our athletes that they would like to consider a change to using the extra duty ball,” Binder said. “The basis behind using the regular felt ball was that it limited the potential of arm, shoulder, elbow and wrist injuries. This is something that we will continue to monitor and discuss further with both our athletes and our sports science teams.”

Swiatek’s comments were similar to that of Craig Tyzzer, the longtime coach of now-retired former No. 1 Ashleigh Barty. After her Australian Open victory in January, Tyzzer told reporters Barty would never be able to win the US Open with the current balls.

“The US Open really needs to change the ball for the girls, the fact they still use a different ball for guys and girls, it’s a terrible ball for someone like Ash,” Tyzzer said. “It was the only tournament last year and really for two years where she uses a gut racket, but I had to change her to a poly just to get any sort of control of the ball. If they keep that ball the same, no one like Ash will win that tournament.”

The US Open main draw is set for Monday. Swiatek is the top seed and seeking her first major title on hardcourt.

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