Gender Equality, Serena Williams, Equal Pay And The WTA - UBITENNIS
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Gender Equality, Serena Williams, Equal Pay And The WTA

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Serena Williams (zimbio.com)

By Nafari Vanaski  (@TWA_tennis_blog)

I recently  read Serena Williams’ open letter to women, published in The Guardian. It resonates particularly now because of Hillary Clinton’s loss in the U.S. presidential election, I think, although she doesn’t address the race. In it, she does encourage women to “dream big” and wonders why she is considered one of the greatest “female” athletes of all time, while Roger Federer, say, isn’t identified by gender. She also raises the fact that women are paid less for doing the same work that men do — even her.

 

Her letter is an important one, and she does raise a strong point: Why can’t we throw gender out of the window when discussing achievement? It’s a good question, and the answer is the same when you replace the word “gender” with “race.” It’s because we’re not there yet. We are not equal, and there is actually importance now, still, in using those distinguishing identification factors. What Serena Williams has done in her career is still so unusual, so deep into uncharted territory that it needs to be noted that her accomplishments were done by a woman. Not as a way to minimize her work, but more as a way to inspire. I think one day, Williams’ accomplishments will stand alone with no gender asterisks necessary. Right now, in a world where a woman who was far more qualified to lead lost an election to a man who, it could be argued, was the least qualified to lead, we need to remember who Williams is, because the same girls who saw the way the election went down are bearing witness to the unprecedented career of Serena Williams. So, for now, I’m OK with her accomplishments being linked to her gender. For now.

I also took the time to do something I had been meaning to do for some time. I watched the annual State of the Tour “fireside chat (no fireside present) with Steve Simon and some of the other leaders of the WTA to discuss their plans for the year. A lot of it is exciting stuff — expanding its reach throughout Asia and Europe, raising its digital game, announcing an agreement to stream tour matches starting in 2017 (although this part is apparently on hold) and a dramatic rebranding of the WTA, along with a commitment to quality in the tour’s content. Simon also spoke in vague terms of easing the tournament schedule. All of this sounds great, and really should have been happening some years ago.

The room was full of journalists, and they asked a lot of questions. Some of them were kind of ridiculous, such as the idea that focusing on going digital would leave print readers behind. It was sort of like listening to someone ask, “Well, Steve, I’ve been a caveman all my life. I don’t really want to use electricity …” But when pressed about the schedule situation, Simon kept his language vague and hinted that there were many moving parts involved in shortening the calendar.

That was going to be the closest anyone got to pushing Simon on comments he’s made previously regarding his ideas on keeping players healthy, including this idea of going to no-ad scoring in matches, to make them go faster.

Steve Simon, meet Serena Williams. Serena, Simon. Because what Simon has suggested is not equality at all. It is the very acceptance of inferiority. Well, that is, until I hear the ATP Tour CEO start talking about men shortening matches. Or, when men start getting on-court coaching.  But with this open letter she’s written, I wonder if Serena’s taken it to Simon. I wonder if, when considering gender inequality, if she weighs this on-court coaching idea that’s available to women only for reasons that have never been clarified. Would she really play a no-ad match on one court in the Miami Open while Rafael Nadal is playing a standard three-setter one court over?

Serena’s speaking to a larger point, I know, when it comes to gender. And I know that women in the workplace literally go pound-for-pound in duties and workload and are paid less for it. Is that happening in women’s tennis? No. When you bring no-ad scoring and coaching rules that are different for men and women, that is the essence of inequality. It’s giving in to the idea that no, we’re not the same. Is that what Steve Simon means to imply? Is Serena Williams OK with that?

Serena, meet Simon. Simon, Serena.

Graph illustrating the earnings for the top 10 players in 2015

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Millions of dollars earned Vs players ranking (source: BBC)

 

 

 

Red Line – Women
green Line – Men

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Editorial

Steve Flink’s Preliminary French Open Projections

Once again Rafael Nadal is the clear frontrunner but who has the ability to stop his run to yet another title at Roland Garros?

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As I write this piece, the French Open draw has not yet been made. That makes it difficult to make projections that are too bold or specific, but I am ready to present my overview of Roland Garros and to look at what could unfold over the next few weeks at the most important clay court tournament on the planet.

 

No matter how the draw turns out (Will Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic end up in the same half and meet in the semifinals? Who will take on Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals? What else is in store?) the view here is that no one is going to deny Nadal another triumphant run at his favorite tournament in the world. Nadal is almost surely going to collect a fourteenth crown in Paris, and thus move past Roger Federer into first place among the men as the winner of the most Grand Slam singles titles ever. Nadal is poised to collect his 21st major title after a hard and productive clay court campaign.

To be sure, he was somewhat vulnerable on the red clay this time around. He was ousted in a three set quarterfinal at Monte Carlo by the big hitting Andrey Rublev, and thus prevented from winning that tournament for the twelfth time. The dynamic Spaniard took that loss with his usual equanimity, realizing there was a long road ahead on the dirt, understanding that his form would inevitably improve.

He moved on to Barcelona, and at that ATP 500 event he made amends for his Monte Carlo setback. Nadal was pushed to the hilt by an inspired Tsitsipas in the final. The gifted Greek stylist played with all of his heart and a great deal of verve, bringing Nadal to the brink of defeat. Tsitsipas had a match point and was somewhat unlucky not to convert it. His return of serve was sent deep down the middle. After Nadal commendably flicked it back crosscourt, Tsitsipas unleashed a heavy forehand deep into Nadal’s backhand corner.

Rafa barely got that ball back on the stretch as his two-hander clipped the net cord and fortunately stayed in play. Nadal went on to win that point and claimed the match 6-4, 6-7 (6), 7-5. It was a narrow escape but Nadal deservedly came away with a twelfth crown in Barcelona in a match he needed badly from a psychological perspective.

And yet, he was still not fully in the groove on his best surface. Nadal was ushered out of Madrid in the quarterfinals by a composed and confident Sascha Zverev, who extended his winning streak over the Spaniard to three head to head matches in a row. Zverev won that contest in straight sets after trailing 4-2 in the opening set. He served beautifully, waited for the right openings to approach the net off his forehand, and defended ably in many instances. But Nadal was understandably very unhappy with his performance, and his negativity was readily apparent.

Having lost in two of his three clay court appearances, Nadal once more needed a boost when he went to Rome. And that is precisely what he got in the end. Nevertheless, he was in a very precarious position when he took on Denis Shapovalov in the round of 16. The Canadian left-hander played perhaps the finest clay court tennis of his career to nearly produce a major upset on the Italian clay. 

Shapovalov won the first set and led 3-0 with a break point for 4-0 in the second set. Nadal struck back audaciously to win six of the last seven games to salvage the second set. Nevertheless, the Spaniard soon trailed 3-1 in the final set before getting back on even terms. Be that as it may, Nadal was down match point twice when he served at 5-6 in the final set and was fortunate that the Canadian was a bit impetuous on both opportunities. Nadal came through in a final set tie-break to win a crucial encounter.

Buoyed by that escape, Nadal avenged his Madrid loss to Zverev by upending the German in the quarterfinals. He next took apart the towering American Reilly Opelka in the semifinals, and then he won what was arguably the best played clay court match of the 2021 season by overcoming Djokovic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 for a tenth Italian Open crown.

Djokovic was first rate across the three sets of high quality tennis. He had the early break for 2-0 in the opening set but Nadal broke right back. At 5-5 the Serbian had a game point but double faulted and was soon broken. But he swept through the second set sublimely and then had two break points with Nadal serving at 2-2 in the final set. Djokovic missed a high forehand into the net tape on one of those break points, and once Nadal held on there he took control the rest of the way, closing the gap in his personal career head to head series with Djokovic to 29-28 for the Serbian.

Nadal did not want to be beaten in three out of four tournaments en route to Roland Garros, and he avoided that fate by playing the big points better than Djokovic in both the first and third sets. He came away with a second clay court title of the season and a considerable lift heading into the French Open. In my view, he raised his game decidedly against Djokovic when he had to, and the Spaniard was pounding the forehand as prodigiously as he has in a very long while. In turn, his serve location and velocity were significantly improved.

Nadal’s tournament preparation for Roland Garros was over and he has put himself in good stead. He will turn 35 early in the tournament but the eminent left-hander is playing like a much younger man. No matter how modest he is and how little he says about his confidence or convictions, the view here is entirely clear—Rafael Nadal fully believes he is going to win a 14th French Open.

I would give only two other men a serious chance to win at Roland Garros. To be sure, Djokovic and Tsitsipas must have everything fall into place perfectly to win in Paris, but both men should be very well prepared to give it their all at the French Open.

Djokovic must be considered the distant second favorite behind  Nadal for a number of reasons. He has won the tournament before which is no mean feat, coming through in 2016 for his fourth Grand Slam title in a row, becoming the first man since Rod Laver won his second Grand Slam in 1969 to sweep four straight major titles. Djokovic is one of only two players ever to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros, eclipsing the Spaniard in the 2015 quarterfinals.

Balanced against that fact is this: Djokovic has been beaten three times in the finals of the French Open by Nadal, bowing against his chief rival in 2012, 2014, and 2020. In last year’s final, Djokovic was taken apart 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 by Nadal in their most one-sided contest ever on such a big occasion. Altogether, his record against Nadal at Roland Garros is 1-7.

The fact remains that Nadal respects Djokovic as a player more than anyone else. The final last year was an anomaly. Nadal was letter perfect on that afternoon while Djokovic was far away from the top of his game. If they meet again this year, the match will not resemble that one. In Rome, Djokovic was outplayed in the end but the margins were exceedingly slim and both players were well aware of that.

The Serbian is competing this week in Belgrade and looking for his first title since taking the Australian Open at the start of the season for the ninth time. Djokovic should win the tournament and thus give himself a boost as he approaches Roland Garros. He played an abysmal match in losing to Dan Evans in the round of 16 at Monte Carlo, and then was beaten in a well played semifinal by Aslan Karatsev in the first of two Serbian tournaments he would play on his way to Roland Garros. But Djokovic was too tight to do himself full justice in that contest.  His break point conversion rate was not up to his standard. Karatsev saved 23 of 28 break points against him in that duel. And then Djokovic lost that hard fought clash with Nadal in Rome.

Djokovic should be ready in Paris. While Nadal clearly has history uppermost on his mind as he goes full force after the title in Paris, Djokovic will be similarly motivated. If Nadal wins the tournament, Djokovic would trail the Spaniard by three majors, but if the Serbian prevails he could close the gap to one title. That is a huge difference.

While Djokovic will have the match play he needs to perform at optimum level in Paris, so, too, will the surging Tsitsipas. The Greek player won his first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo, lost narrowly to Nadal in that Barcelona final, fell in the round of 16 in Madrid, but then nearly toppled Djokovic in a stirring quarter final battle in Rome. Tsitsipas served for the match before losing that riveting encounter 7-5 in the third set.

That was his second agonizing clay court loss of the season. Both Nadal in Barcelona and Djokovic in Rome demonstrated that they are the best big pressure players in the game. But Tsitsipas recovered well from the Djokovic loss. This past week he won his second clay court crown of the season in Lyon. That triumph could not have been more timely.

There are others, of course, who are capable of capturing the title at Roland Garros under the right set of circumstances. But two of the top four seeds are at very low emotional ebbs at the moment. Dominic Thiem has been magnificent in many ways over the last five French Open editions. In 2016, he lost to Djokovic in the semifinals. A year later, Nadal beat him in the penultimate round. And then in 2018 and 2019 he was the runner-up to Nadal. Last year, Thiem fell in the quarterfinals against Diego Schwartzman but he was weary then after winning the U.S. Open a few weeks earlier.

Now the Austrian is simply not himself physically or emotionally. He skipped Monte Carlo, lost to Zverev in the semifinals of Madrid, fell in a closely contested round of 16 skirmish against Lorenzo Sonego in Rome and then bowed out tamely this past week 6-3, 6-2 against Cameron Norrie, who made it to the final and lost to Tsitsipas.

Thiem is a great clay court player, but his spirits now are so diminished that I don’t see him going deep into the draw in Paris. His vulnerability is unmistakable. And what of world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev? He has freely admitted that clay is a surface he simply does not understand. He has struggled inordinately all spring. I expect Medvedev to lose early at Roland Garros. He has been beaten in the first round at the French Open no fewer than four years in a row. His morale is low. It is hard to imagine him making much of an impression. For Nadal to be seeded behind Medvedev in Paris is a glaring injustice.

I believe Sascha Zverev is going to be a factor in Paris. The 2020 U.S. Open finalist was victorious in Madrid, taking his third career Masters 1000 clay court title. He has the game to succeed on any surface but does he have the emotional stability to get through a fortnight in Paris this time around? I doubt it, although he is one player Nadal would rather not have to face.

Four other players could make their presence known depending on their draws. Rublev is a workhorse who approaches every tournament as if it will be the last one he will ever play. But after his final round appearance in Monte Carlo, his results on clay were disappointing. Matteo Berrettini is very comfortable on the clay and reached the final in Madrid, but can he move beyond the quarterfinals or perhaps the semifinals? I doubt it. 

Meanwhile another Italian must be watched closely. Jannik Sinner has not done himself justice during the clay court season but the Miami Masters 1000 hard court finalist is among the most determined competitors out there. He pushed Nadal hard in a respectable loss at Rome. He can make inroads after reaching the quarters last year in Paris and nearly winning the first set from Nadal. But the feeling grows that Sinner’s best case scenario is a semifinal showing.

It all comes back to Nadal. This is a man on a mission. He will be looking to peak in Paris as he does almost every years. Here is a redoubtable champion who won Roland Garros the first four times he played it (2005-2008)  before a shocking round of 16 loss to Robin Soderling in 2009. Then he won five in a row (2010-2014) before losing to Djokovic in 2015 and withdrawing prior to a third round match in 2016 with an injury. Since then he has won four more titles in a row. 

Beating Rafael Nadal in a best of five set match on clay is the toughest task in tennis. I am almost certain he is going to be the last man standing again in Paris.

___________________________________________________________________________

Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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All You Need To Know About The Past, The Present And The Future Of Tennis Balls

Balls are the most ubiquitous part of the game, with a production of over 300 million per year. However, manufacturers are now trying to adapt to new commercial and environmental landscapes.

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A historical examination of the evolution of tennis balls allows to conventionally identify three phases: 

 
  • An initial phase, in the early days of the game, when the first regulatory developments took place 
  • A second phase corresponding to the beginning of the Open Era, when regulations became more compliant to television needs because of tennis’s increase in popularity 
  • A third phase starting in 2015, when the industry embraced the ecological way of the reconversion of the production process of fuzzy balls. 

Sources:  Tennisplayer.net, Merchantoftennis.comStevegtennis.comUdl.co.ukNewyorktimes.comAbnamro.nl

In the video above, shot in the 1920s, Renè Lacoste is about to try the first ball machine. It is possible to notice how balls are picked up from a carton box and not from a pressurized cylindrical metal tube, a packaging innovation which was introduced in 1926 by the American company Penn. A year before, in 1925, a new rule was devised, prescribing that balls had to bounce from 53 to 58 inches (135-147 cm), falling from a height of 100 inches. Bounce ranges have not changed, except for balls used at high altitudes and for special balls used by children for the progressive learning of shots. 

At the onset of tennis, rubber balls were not pressurized. This way, there was no fear of losing pressure, because bounce and compression were produced by a rubber compound. However, the latter was far from being top quality, and consequently the balls were too tough or too soft or bouncing too low due to the lack of internal pressure. That’s why pressurization was introduced. But how were balls supposed to keep their bounce intact when they were simply packed in carton boxes? Before the advent of metal tubes, the solution was to over-pressurize the balls. This means that at the beginning of the season, balls were probably bouncier than at the end.  

As for the use of felt, it is a material designed for tennis, provided with wider fiber threads than those used in clothing. This felt allows to:

  • Reduce ball speed both after the impact with the racquet and in the air
  • Improve ball control by preventing it to bounce irregularly after having hit the racquet
  • Reduce ball bounce to a comfortable height, regardless of surfaces. 

Felt is now the most expensive material of the production process. 

TYPES OF BALLS

Today there are different types of tennis ball, which can be divided as follow:

  • Type 1: fast, or known as regular duty (pressurized or not pressurized), commonly used on clay
  • Type 2: medium, conventionally divided in Extra Duty for men and Regular Duty for women, commonly used on hardcourts
  • Type 3: slow, commonly used on grass 
  • Balls to be used at high altitudes

Additionally, other models have been created to facilitate the progressive learning of children (aged between 7 and 12) – it is the biggest innovation of tennis balls in recent years. The chart below summarizes the ITF standards that producers are required to abide by, with a few ulterior notes: Type 1 ball can be pressurized or pressureless, but the pressureless balls must have an internal pressure not exceeding 7 kPa (1 psi); Type 3 balls are also recommended for high-altitude play on any type of surface starting at 1.219 km above sea level; high-altitude balls are always pressurized and should only be used for play starting at 1.219 km above sea level.

TYPESMASS (WEIGHT)SIZEREBOUNDFORWARD DEFORMATIONRETURN DEFORMATIONCOLOUR
TYPE 1 (FAST)56.0-59.4 gr. 6.54-6.86 cm 135-147 cm (53-58 in.)0.50-0.60 cm 0.67-0.91 cm White or Yellow
TYPE 2 (MEDIUM)156.0-59.4 gr. 6.54-6.86 cm 135-147 cm (53-58 in.)0.56-0.74 cm 0.80-1.08 cm White or Yellow
TYPE 3 (SLOW)256.0-59.4 gr. 7.00-7.30 cm 135-147 cm (53-58 in.)0.56-0.74 cm0.80-1.08 cmWhite or Yellow
HIGH ALTITUDE (3)56.0-59.4 gr. 6.54-6.86 cm 122-135 cm (48-53 in.)0.56-0.74 cm 0.80-1.08 cmWhite or Yellow
Tolerance0,4 gr.None4 cm0,08 cm0,10 cmNone
STAGE 3 (RED) FOAM25.0-43.0 gr.8.00-9.00 cm85-105 cm NoneNoneAny
STAGE 3 (RED) STANDARD36.0-49.0 gr.7.00-8.00 cm 90-105 cmNoneNoneRed and Yellow, or Yellow with a Red dot
STAGE 2 (ORANGE) STANDARD36.0-46.9 gr.6.00-6.86 cm 105-120 cm 1.40-1.65 cm NoneOrange and Yellow, or Yellow with an Orange dot
STAGE 1 (GREEN) STANDARD47.0-51.5 gr.6.30-6.86 cm120-135 cm 0.80-1.05 cm NoneYellow with a Green dot

Source:  https://balls.com/rules/tennis- ball-specifications-defined-for-four-types.html

Research conducted in 2013 (and published in the “Journal of Sports Science and Medicine”) empirically showed that the forehand performance of a small group of eight children with an average age of 8.1 (±0,74) improved in a restricted court and with low-compression balls. The performance of the forehand hit from the baseline was evaluated using three indicators: speed and accuracy index (VP), speed and accuracy success index (VPS) and the percentage of success in hitting the shot – this last indicator is a function of the other two. Participants completed three different forehand patterns on two consecutive days, first using low compression balls on a 18,3 meters court and then using standards Type 2 balls on a 23,8 meters court. Participants using low-compression ball recorded higher VPS score values (p< 0,001) for each shot without errors, as well as higher VP (p= 0,01). The results are summed up below: 

This research suggests that law-compression balls (as well as the reduced dimension of the court) facilitate the execution of the shot and improve children’s ability to hit with more speed and higher success rate. Performance improvement using such balls could become a decisive factor in the development of tennis fundamentals at a young age. 

EVERY TOURNAMENT HAS AN OFFICIAL BALL

Managing to adapt to different balls in different tournaments is only one of the adjustments that pro tennis players have to make throughout the season. Some of them change the string tension according to the balls used in the various tournaments while also considering other (mostly meteorological) factors that might affect the bounce of the ball. It is known that heat makes rubber more elastic, thus making the balls bouncier. Humidity instead makes them heavier – this is the reason why Nadal is even more devastating at Roland Garros during sunnier days. What follows is the manufacturer used by each of the main ATP tournaments (Slams, Masters 1000 and ATP Finals):

Sources: essentiallysports.com, tennisfansite.com, ubitennis.com

Clay tournaments that sport Dunlop balls are Monte Carlo, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, as well as the ATP 250 events that take place in Estoril, Munich, and Belgrade. Besides the above mentioned tournaments, Dunlop is the Official Ball of the ATP, a really important detail for merchandising purposes. Today, Dunlop is the most common ball brand in the tennis world. 

Does balls supply represent a cost or an income from sponsorships for a tournament? Although figures are unclear, it is thought that the response depends on the importance of the tennis tournament. In December 2016, Le Figaro wrote that Wimbledon made the clever move of making its partners, including ball supplier Slazenger, the event’s official sponsors. This allows the AELTC to avoid restrictions imposed by brands other than the main suppliers and, at the same time, to have the necessary equipment while containing costs – revenues also grow because of the more collegial nature of the new partnership deals. In exchange for a sum negotiated by the two parties, brands can attach the Wimbledon logo on their products. Not all the tournaments have the importance and the contractual power of Wimbledon and this leads us to think that the less important the status of the tournament, the costlier supplies are. 

Long-lasting supply collaborations imply that technological innovations are implemented by R&D departments of sponsoring companies, as is the case with Slazenger and Wilson. While Slazenger patented a phosphorescent fiber ball with a water-repellent system, Wilson tested different specific pressures only for balls used during the US open to reduce possible variations, as Bill Dillon (Wilson senior manager) told the New York Times in 2018. 

Considering the chart at the beginning of this section (the one related to ITF standards for manufacturers), it can be noticed how rigid these standards are. However, there is some leeway when new balls come into play or at the end of the seven canonical games (in every match, balls are changed after the first seven games and then every nine games). This allows producers to stretch the limits a little bit. Jeff Ratkovich, Head-Penn’s senior business manager, claimed in the same New York Times article that pro players are able to “perceive even the smallest variation” – this is the reason why Head-Penn uses far more rigid specifications than those imposed by the ITF. When the changes of official supplies in the most important tournaments occur, players tend to be overtly critical. During the 2019 Championships, Nadal stated that balls had slowed down the game. During the Australian Open, a few months prior, Federer said that he had problems with the new Dunlop balls. During the 2011 Roland Garros, Djokovic, Federer and Murray complained about the new Babolat balls, which happened to make their debut in that edition of the event. In the autumn edition of the French Open held in 2020, Wilson balls made their debut, and as usual criticism abounded. 

TOWARD THE ECOLOGICAL TRANSITION

On average, worn-out tennis balls are re-utilised for different purposes only in 3 to 7 percent of cases before they are incinerated and taken to a landfill – it is esteemed that about 300-325 million of tennis balls are produced every year. As early as August 2012, Ubitennis talked about a business initiative aiming to revitalize the old tennis balls, bringing them back to the appropriate pressure thanks to a special machine created by Rebounce. In 2015, this company teamed up with Advanced Polymer Technology and Ace Surfaces to create the Tennisballrecycling consortium, whose aim is to recycle the old balls to produce materials that will be used to re-surface tennis courts. How does the system work? After the first usage, balls are brought back to the appropriate pressure, extending their lifespan. When the felt is completely worn out, balls are snipped to recycle the rubber. Lastly, Laykold, an enterprise of the APT group (Advanced Polymer Technology) paves the tennis surfaces, recycling up to 10,000 balls for the surface of a single court

The spring of 2020 marked the creation of Renewaball, a Dutch start-up which produces balls from recycled ones. Till then, the pure rubber and the felt partitions could not be separated – this was the main issue for the recycling process. The new start-up found out a way to do it, and therefore opened the door the production of a tennis ball that uses others as a base. The company has assured that the percentage of balls produced this way will significantly increase in years to come, but it has also warned that it will be impossible to produce a ball made of 100% recycled balls because the final product – a Type 2 ball valid for all playing surfaces and sold in pressurized plastic containers – will always need a minimum part of “pure rubber”. 

Tennisballrecycling Vs Renewaball. Images courtesy of Tennisballrecycling and Renewaball 

Nowadays, the production of tennis balls takes places almost solely in Southeast Asia, i.e. far from where tournaments are played. It has been calculated that a tennis ball can travel up to 80,000 km before it comes out of the box. This is a cost for our environment, which implies a lot of marine diesel, kerosene and CO2 emissions. As highlighted in the chart below, the majority of production takes places in Southeast Asia – Thailand is the first producer in the world of natural rubber, followed by China and the Philippines.

Moreover, the use of tennis balls produces thousands of plastic microparticles that the polyester/nylon felt releases into the air after a shot is hit. Those micro-particles will probably end up on the sea ocean or will be part of the floating plastic “soup” that is constantly increasing in the seas. The graphic below highlights the comparison of CO2 emissions between the traditional productive process and that implemented by Renewaball. 

Overall, for each ball produced with the Renewaball productive process, there should be an impact reduction of 0,1764 kg Co2-eq per tennis ball. Considering that the Netherlands are currently using 5,5 million balls, this is equivalent to: 

5,5 mil x 0,1764 kg Co2-eq = 970.200 (a decrease of KgCo2- eq per year) 

Further details and clarification on the Renewaball productive process are available to the following link

FINAL COMMENTS

Despite a productive know-how which is relatively stable over time, it appears that the market of tennis balls is going toward a monopoly. Until now, the most important takeover has been made by Head, which bought Penn in 1999. Reconversion of productive processes and the demand for new balls for children should guarantee other factors of differentiation, in addition to those crystallized over time due to specific sponsorship deals. 

Once clarified the scenario, let’s try to imagine what the T7, the new tennis governance entity recently mentioned by Andrea Gaudenzi, might do vis-à-vis the implementation of a single supplier for tennis balls – albeit for different reasons, they would be following the supplying model of tires in motorsports (F1 and MotoGP). On the one hand, there is the undeniable advantage of having a single ball standard for all the players during the season. On the other, giving that much contractual power to a single interlocutor, representative of the various tennis organizations, seems unfeasible, given the number of interested parties that are currently part of this market, both in terms of tournaments and ball manufacturers. To get rid of sponsorship agreements, tournaments should receive more or equivalent incomes from the T7 or reduce supply costs. However, in the meantime producers will have developed specific know-how for playing surfaces, so another solution could be to split the supply cake on a triennial basis between the main manufacturers; however, this action could generate an oligopoly with fairly strong entry barriers for new producers. A final option would be to impose the use of balls from the same brand on each surface. If things remain unchanged, it is very likely that the entourages of the players will talk to experts in order to find algorithms able to optimise the string tension of racquets based on surface, ball typology, ball brand, the player’s feel and weather conditions, greatly simplifying the work of stringers. 

As for the green solutions, the writer of this article thinks that the road undertaken by the producers aiming to extend the life of the balls without using plastic containers will only cause a reduction in sales and, besides, won’t solve the problem of their disposal. Tennisballrecycling’s solution is connected to the demand of new tennis courts to be paved and is thus connected to the sport – however, the destiny of said discontinued courts is still uncertain. The solution proposed by Renewaball, on the other hand, embraces logics and principles of circular economy, creating a potentially infinite productive cycle. 

Article by Andrea Canella; translated by Luca Rossi; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Looking Back at Madrid and Forward to Rome

Alexander Zverev stated his case in the Spanish capital – will Djokovic and Nadal re-assert their claycourt supremacy in Italy?

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We have been witnessing a fascinating clay court campaign in a multitude of ways over the last several weeks. The first major development was when Stefanos Tsitsipas secured his initial Masters 1000 crown in Monte Carlo by toppling Andrey Rublev in the final after Rublev had stunned eleven time victor Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Novak Djokovic suffered an even more astounding upset loss there to Great Britain’s Dan Evans in the round of 16.

 

Then Nadal was victorious in Barcelona, capturing that highly regarded ATP 500 title for the twelfth time, rescuing himself from match point down in the final against an inspired and somewhat unlucky Tsitsipas, prevailing in three hours and thirty eight minutes of suspenseful and riveting tennis. That same week in Belgrade, Djokovic was beaten in the semifinals of an ATP 250 event in his homeland, narrowly falling short against the surging Aslan Karatsev. The following day, the top ranked Italian Matteo Berrettini ousted Karatsev in a final set tie-break to claim that title.

And soon the stage was set for the second clay court Masters 1000 tournament of the season this past week in Madrid. Once more, there were a good many surprises over the course of the week. For starters, 2019 champion Djokovic chose not to play. Tsitsipas was knocked out in the round of 16 by a perspicacious Casper Ruud. Overflowing with confidence coming into the tournament, Tsitsipas never found a way to contain Ruud from the backcourt. He seemed constantly ill at ease coping with the Norwegian’s heavy and penetrating topspin forehand. Ruud kept Tsitsipas at bay with his high bounding shots off that side.

That match turned late in a first set settled in a tie-break. That crucial sequence was locked at 3-3 when Tsitsipas punched a backhand volley long to give Ruud the mini-break. Ruud took control off the forehand to stretch his lead to 6-3, and then came through to take the tie-break 7-4 when Tsitsipas missed a forehand inside-in wide.

The second set went to 3-3, but Tsitsipas was broken at 15 when he double faulted and pressed off the forehand, netting his down the line shot off that side. Ruud was too good with the lead, holding at 30 for 5-3. Two games later, Ruud served for the match, meeting that challenge with temerity, holding at the cost of only one point. Victory was salvaged deservedly by Ruud 7-6 (4), 6-4, who connected with nearly 80% of his first serves and largely set the tempo in this meeting. He was so good that Tsitsipas was frequently discombobulated, pressing and beating himself down the stretch.

The Norwegian eventually lost in the semifinals 6-4, 6-4 to a top of the line Berrettini after ousting Alexander Bublik 7-5 6-1 in the quarterfinals.  He is beginning to make a habit out of showing up for the latter stages of Masters 1000 tournaments. He lost to Djokovic last year in the semifinals of Rome and a few weeks ago advanced to the same round in Monte Carlo. Ruud has the game to keep advancing deep into these draws at elite events.

Meanwhile, Daniil Medvedev returned to the ATP Tour after being sidelined by Covid-19. He won a match but was then taken apart by the seasoned Christian Garin of Chile, a seasoned clay court player who was not intimidated in the least by taking on the world No. 2. He came through 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-1 for perhaps the biggest win of his career. Medvedev looked out of sorts and ill at ease through most of this encounter. The 25-year-old Russian was candid both before and after losing about his inner confusion concerning how to make his game work effectively on the dirt. The 2019 U.S. Open finalist and 2021 Australian Open runner-up has never won a match at Roland Garros in four appearances. He will have his work cut out for him to recover his finest tennis this week in Rome.

Clearly the most pivotal moment of the week in Madrid was the quarterfinal departure of Nadal at the hands of Zverev. The Spaniard looked composed and secure on his way to the appointment with Zverev. He was outmaneuvering his tall adversary in the early stages of this contest, building a 4-2 lead, putting himself two holds away from taking the first set. He reached 30-30 in the seventh game but Zverev stung him severely with a pair of excellent passing shots to get the break back.

2021 05 06 MADRID – MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021. FOTO: Mateo Villalba

Down break point in the following game, Zverev gamely held on to reach 4-4. Nadal had a game point for 5-4 but he could not cash in on it. At deuce, he double faulted, and then he netted a backhand passing shot. Zverev was rolling now. Serving for the first set, he started with a double fault but swept four points in a row from there with a flourish, lacing a backhand winner crosscourt, coming to the net to pressure Nadal on the next two points, and then acing the Spaniard down the T.

Zverev had captured four consecutive games and he never looked back as a desultory Nadal could not recover his form. Zverev played beautifully and dictated his share of the points. His serve was magnificent as Nadal only broke him once. For his part, Nadal was far too negative once he dropped the opening set. He fell behind 4-2 in the second set and held on there from 15-40, but Zverev maintained the upper hand to win 6-4, 6-4, stopping Nadal for the third time in a row.

Nadal, Tsitsipas and Medvedev were not the only major casualties in the tricky high altitude conditions on the Madrid clay. Dominic Thiem— absent in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and moving through something of a mid-career identity crisis—managed to fend off the sport’s most fearsome server in John Isner. Isner had cut down both Roberto Bautista Agut and Rublev in final set tie-breaks and he nearly halted Thiem. But when the industrious Austrian erased four break points against him at 2-2 in the second set, he altered the course of the match and Isner’s soaring confidence was soon diminished. Thiem rallied admirably for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph and a place in the semifinals.

That was not a bad start to his 2021 clay court campaign. But he looked rusty and uncomfortable against Zverev in the semifinals, and the 6-3, 6-4 scoreline is somewhat misleading. It was not as close as that. Zverev was far more self assured and consistent amidst the swirling winds and he had another very good serving day. He never allowed Thiem to settle into any kind of rhythm from the backcourt. The win for Zverev was all the more gratifying considering that it was their first clash since meeting in the U.S. Open final. Zverev led two sets to love in that match and later served for the match in the fifth set, but he faltered in the crunch and endured a nightmarish setback.

Not so in Madrid. On the clay he was often masterful, driving his two-handed backhand deep down the line for winners, opening up the court with his forehand, and approaching the net at all the right times to keep Thiem unsettled. He demonstrated in this match— as he had against Nadal—that he is as formidable on clay as he is on any other surface. Zverev was a worthy winner of the Madrid Masters 1000 tournament in 2018 after winning Rome the previous year. He also won the Canada hard court Masters 1000 tournament at Montreal in 2017. Those string of triumphs are abundant proof that he can win big tournaments as well as perform with comparable excellence on all kinds of courts.

For Zverev, the final this time around was a chance to reaffirm his greatness while Berrettini was searching for a breakthrough and a validation of all the progress he has made since he climbed into the world’s top ten in 2019 and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open. He had never reached a Masters 1000 final before, but this was a chance to get on the board and prove that he belongs among the sport’s elite.

Berrettini acquitted himself well in a hard fought opening set. He gained the first break of the match for 4-3 but Zverev retaliated immediately to make it 4-4. They settled that set in one of the most bizarre tie-breaks of the entire tennis season. Benefitting from a stream of unforced errors from Zverev, Berrettini built a commanding 5-0 lead, with two service points to follow. But the Italian tightened up, losing the next four points, giving away three with unjustifiable mistakes.

Yet Berrettini unleashed a forehand inside in winner for a 6-4 lead, with two set points at his disposal. Once more with the lead, Berrettini faltered and Zverev moved in front on a run of three consecutive points, serving an ace for a 7-6 lead and a set point. But Berrettini produced a pair of fine first serves and took control off his explosive forehand to regain the lead at 8-7. Although Zverev made it back to 8-8, he foolishly gambled by going for a huge second serve ace down the T, double faulting that point away. Now Berrettini secured the set on his fourth set point with a service winner to the backhand.

The charismatic Italian had survived a considerable ordeal to salvage a set that almost got away, but Zverev refused to be preoccupied by an agonizingly narrow failure. Across the last two sets he was the decidedly better player. At 4-4 in the second set, Berrettini was burned by allowing Zverev to read his drop shot with ease. The German scampered forward and chipped a backhand winner out of reach for 15-40. Shaken, Berrettini double faulted and Zverev had the critical break for 5-4. Zverev served it out in the tenth game to make it one set all.

2021 05 07 MADRID – MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021. by Media Hub Mutua Madrid Open FOTO: Mateo Villalba

The Italian had one more opportunity early in the third set when he had a break point for 3-1 after Zverev went for another second serve ace down the T and double faulted. But Zverev saved the break point with a massive combination of a big serve that set up a forehand winner behind Berrettini. He held on for 2-2 and never looked back, breaking in the fifth and ninth games to record a 6-7 (8)), 6-4, 6-3 victory for his fourth Masters 1000 singles title. The only active players who have won more are Djokovic (36), Nadal (35), Roger Federer (28) and Andy Murray (14).

Most importantly at the moment, this was Zverev’s third Masters 1000 crown on clay. That puts him in very good stead for Roland Garros. Zverev now must be considered a top five candidate to take the world’s premier clay court title. Nadal remains the clear favorite, followed by Djokovic, Thiem and Tsitsipas. But Zverev is now right up there on the clay with the Serbian, Austrian and Greek stylists. Winning this title could not be more timely or uplifting for the tall German performer, with or without a strong showing in Rome this week.

Zverev coming through so convincingly in a tournament of such prestige only augers well for him in Paris. But what about Rome? Who is best positioned to be victorious this week on the Italian red clay?

Those are not easy questions to answer. One would think that Nadal will be very eager to make amends. He has won only one of his three clay court tournaments this year en route to Roland Garros, losing a pair of quarterfinals. Even his lone triumph in Barcelona was a narrow escape as the Spaniard saved a match point in the final set before holding back Tsitsipas in a rousing title round showdown.

This week in Rome, Nadal’s draw is not easy by any means. Seeded second behind Djokovic, he may have to face the hard working and wildly ambitious Jannik Sinner after a first round bye. He could meet Zverev for the second week in a row in the quarters. Zverev would have nothing to lose after eclipsing Rafa in Madrid, and the Spaniard could be both eager and uneasy if he does indeed face Zverev again.

If Nadal survives a potential confrontation against Zverev, he will be very likely to reach the final. No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev is on his half of the draw. I don’t believe Medvedev will make it to the penultimate round, but perhaps Diego Schwartzman will break out of a recent slump of sorts and try to reprise his winning form against Nadal last year at the same tournament.

There is no doubt Nadal could use a boost going into Roland Garros. He has yet to strike peak form these last bunch of weeks on his favorite surface, but claiming a tenth title in Rome would do much to improve his state of mind and carry him into Roland Garros feeling more like himself.

And yet, as much as Nadal wants to raise the level of his game this week in Italy, Novak Djokovic is even more in need of a morale boosting tournament. Djokovic, of course, commenced 2021 in style with his ninth Australian Open title run and an 18th Grand Slam title victory. But in his two clay court appearances this spring, he has not found a winning formula.

In Monte Carlo, playing Dan Evans for the first time, Djokovic was way off his game in a straight set defeat. He then suffered the disappointing loss to Karatsev in Serbia. Those subpar results are precisely why Djokovic must be determined to win his sixth Italian Open this week—or at least reach the final. That will be no facile feat. He could meet Evans again in his opening match if the British competitor beats Taylor Fritz in the first round.

The seedings project that Djokovic will meet the No. 5 seed Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals (if Tsitsipas can defeat Berrettini), and that one could be a blockbuster. Also on his half of the draw for a potential semifinal encounter are Thiem and Rublev, who should clash in the quarterfinals. My feeling is that Rome is even more important for Djokovic than it is for Nadal; a great week in Italy could propel the estimable Serbian into Paris and make him believe in his chances to win Roland Garros for the second time, but an early round loss would be a serious setback.

So there you have it. I have a hunch that we are in for some more surprises this week. Rublev might explode and take his first Masters 1000 title. Zverev will be ascendant after his heroics in Madrid. He will be loose, confident and happy to be sparkling in the springtime. Perhaps it is asking too much of him to win back to back Masters 1000s in successive weeks, but perhaps not. I would also not be stunned to see Tsitsipas step back up after his loss in Madrid and put it all together again.

To be sure, Nadal must be the favorite this week. He can be exceedingly dangerous when he is disconcerted with his game, and that could well drive him to dizzying heights in Rome. I feel the same way about Djokovic. He has too much pride and professionalism to accept anything less than a stellar showing this week as either the champion or the runner-up.

But what makes it all so intriguing at the moment is the unpredictability of the last three Masters 1000 tournaments. Hubert Hurkacz struck down Sinner in the Miami final; neither player had ever been in a Masters 1000 final before. Tsitsipas took his first of these elite prizes in Monte Carlo by toppling Rublev in the final. And then Zverev triumphed deservedly in Madrid, coming from behind to oust Berrettini, who was appearing in his first final at one of these elite events.

So take nothing for granted. Look for Nadal to be almost defiant. Expect Djokovic to be as motivated as he has been in a long time. Be anticipating as well that one of the emerging superstars of men’s tennis will be in the thick of the proceedings and unafraid to confront the icons of the game at the second most important clay court tournament in all of tennis.

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Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

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