The issue over the lighter tennis balls used by the women at the US Open rumbles on, with World No 1 Iga Swiatek continuing to question the need for different balls for the men and women.
I don't think it would be a problem [to change the balls] because it's still the same company, it's Wilson, but, yeah, maybe we should push a bit more. I stopped actually pushing and trying to convince WTA, because the war in Ukraine happened and I refocused on something else. Yeah, but honestly, any tournament I play with these balls, I didn't feel well. Iga Swiatek
“I don’t know why they are different than men’s ones,” Swiatek 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.”
The balls are also used during the lead-in swing, including Toronto and in Cincinnati.
In a statement to ESPN, Amy Binder, the WTA’s Senior Vice President of Global Communications, said the organisation was listening to player concerns, and would explore the matter further.
“The WTA has always utilised regular felt balls for hard court 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.”
Players have complained about the difference with one another, while Swiatek and Paula Badosa, currently ranked No 4, spoke to WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon last year to ask whether they could switch to use the same ball as the men.
“I don’t think it would be a problem because it’s still the same company, it’s Wilson, but, yeah, maybe we should push a bit more,” Swiatek said. “I stopped actually pushing and trying to convince WTA, because the war in Ukraine happened and I refocused on something else.
“Yeah, but honestly, any tournament I play with these balls, I didn’t feel well.”
Spain’s Badosa supported the Pole’s words on Instagram, placing her comments over a screenshot of Swiatek’s statement: “Very much agree. Very unfavourable conditions for the players and for the spectacle,” she wrote, even adding a poop emoji for emphasis.
“Then we complain that there are a lot of errors and there’s a loss of tactics and intelligence on points. (While what we deal with is) faster courts and balls impossible to control.”
Swiatek and Badosa are not the first to publicly voice their displeasure about the ball disparity, saying its affects the quality of play for the fans.
Former World No 1 and now retired Ash Barty’s longtime coach Craig Tyzzer told reporters after her Australian Open victory earlier this year that Barty would never 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 in January. “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.
“So I think you see the result at the US Open, it was two players who, you go, ‘Wow, that was, two different players won that?’ There’s no surprise when the ball is like it is.”
Five of the previous 7 US Open women’s title winners, including defending champion Emma Raducanu, have been first-time major winners.
A week after Swiatek called the balls used at the US Open ‘horrible’, the USTA responded in a statement on Wednesday, explaining that ‘a number of factors are considered in these decisions’, which include input from the tours and their player councils.
“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 USTA 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 utilised 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.