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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
New balls please
Tennis Ball
New type of ball will be used at Wimbledon this year
After 100 years of near inertia, the tennis ball we have all come to know and love is experiencing an era of change.

Following on from last month's launch of larger balls by two of the biggest equipment manufacturers, Penn and Wilson, Wimbledon will be using a new 'ultra high visibility' ball this year.

The last century has seen a couple of changes in the tennis ball - firstly, the switch from stitched to glued seams, and secondly the fundamental change in the colour from white to yellow.

This effort was to raise the profile of the game and turn it into a more television-friendly sport after there were reports of the difficulties of seeing a white ball on television.

The tennis ball changes about to occur purely reiterate those that have already been catered for but go a little bit further.

The sport's governing body, the International Tennis Federation, has been looking at ways to counter the bias towards powerful hitters by reintroducing rallies to the modern game.

Consequently, balls that are 7-8% larger than standard ones have just gone on sale while the ITF continues their tests.

The balls have already been used in four minor Davis Cup ties and there are plans to use them in lower level professional events over the next two years.

"The tests are going quite well and if we decide to endorse the balls in 2002 - which looks likely - we hope they will be used widely from then on," said Andrew Coe, head of project development at the ITF.

Equally, developments in cloth manufacturing have sought to accommodate the pace and power at all levels of the game.

This will take another step forward when the Ultra Vis Slazenger ball is launched at the Wimbledon Championships - Slazenger claim it is 25% brighter than the standard ball.

"We introduced the high visibility ball specifically for indoor tournaments in conjunction with Dunlop in 1995, but it was then used at the Australian Open to great acclaim.

"Boris Becker said it was like seeing yellow footballs coming over the net," said Alan Brasier, technical and development manager at Milliken, who produce the UHV cloth.

"We've now progressed to the ultra visible ball, which reflects more light than falls on it.

"It converts ultra-violet light which increases the strength of the colour and therefore the lightness and percentage reflectance of the ball colour."

The ball's higher visual impact - as with the bigger sized version - means players see it more quickly and have more time to react and return their shot.

But while the brighter coloured ball has already been adopted by the Grand Slams, the bigger sized version is still pushing to be accepted.

Although the ITF have ensured the ball's other qualities, including the weight and fuzz, are relatively unchanged, Coe has had a hard job persuading the manufacturers to invest in producing it and gaining the confidence of the professional players.

But his biggest problem has been convincing the Grand Slam officials.

"Tennis is a very traditional game and it is very difficult to get any change accepted, so it's impossible to say when events like Wimbledon will decide to use the ball," Coe added.

"It is equally important to address the speed of the professional game.

"The bigger ball will improve the quality of the rallies and therefore make it more entertaining to watch.

"As top players get stronger, often power takes over from skill, so the bigger ball is a great leveller. We're trying to redress the balance."

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See also:

11 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
Classic men's singles finals
11 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
Classic women's singles finals
11 Jun 00 | Photo Galleries
Stars relax off court
11 Jun 00 | The Brits
British women to watch
11 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
The traditions of Wimbledon
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