Has global warming changed the game, or is it the ball?

Pete Mathews posed the global warming question based on his observations over time, and questioned ball specifications His comments appeared in the Spring 1991 edition of Platform Tennis News.

“Has ‘Global Warming’ really begun to affect the climate? I’m no expert, but I’ve noticed one thing for sure. Paddle seems to be played under much warmer conditions than I seem to remember in years past. How many photographs in PTN do you see where the pictured players are in either shorts or short sleeves? Furthermore, with the Nationals played later and later in March, the likelihood for warm conditions is greatly heightened for what is the culmination of our season and the supreme test of the game as played today.

Well here’s the real issue for discussion. The current V-30 ball produced by Vittert (and the only ball sanctioned for tournament play) has evolved a good bit over the past 10 years. It is less dense than the ball that I remember learning to play with and has, from my perspective, changed the nature of the game.

I’m not sure what brought about the change. I would appreciate any insight from an informed source. Both our racquet and court technology have improved. The oversized racquet provides a larger sweet spot and lighter weight, while aluminum decks and superstructure provide more consistently true playoff the deck and tighter screens. The ball, however, has in my opinion fallen back. To start with the ball becomes unplayable in about one-half the time that it used to. In addition, I do not remember a problem with lopsided balls when they were made of a denser foam. Secondly, but more importantly, the ball is too lively for play in conditions above 32 degrees. My version of the ideal game is played with tight and true screens and a firm ball which accelerates off the paddle when a drive is struck and hits hard on the paddle of an opposing player who is not back up to net and must attempt a volley from the knees or below. The “old ball” had these characteristics and yet still came off the screen appropriately if driven through the net players to provide opportunity for recovery.

I’ll make an analogy that may or may not be appropriate. Playing with the current ball is like playing racquetball instead of squash. The ball stays in play for much longer. It is tougher to put away either with a drive through the net players or with a delicately placed overhead off a short lob. The good lob is also not as rewarded because the player fielding the deep lob does not need to return as close to net since he/ she can make a volley easily enough from well off the net. Finally, the drop shot, one of the few true put-away shots, is largely negated as a weapon when the ball is as lively as it is now. I guess I do remember when the discussion centered around the appropriateness of the ‘high-bounce’ ball for tournament play in extremely cold weather, but gee I’d love to have to think about that issue again.

Do they still make the ‘high bounce?’ From my perspective, the current ball almost qualifies as one. The benefits of the current ball however are not lost on me. Platform tennis elbow is, I suspect, less prevalent given the reduced shock effect of this ball and the ability to play with lighter racquets. In addition, it is easier for novices to learn and enjoy the screen-play aspects of the game. Now I may be a lonely dissenter on the issue of the ball, and maybe we will return to a period where I’m complaining more about the cold instead of the warm. As a Mid Atlantic player I’m sure I am prejudiced by my geographic location. So here’s one vote for the return of a ball which was: a) firmer, b) rounder, c) held up better, d) died on the racquet if fielded off the shoe tops, e) died in the corner when delicately placed with an overhead, and f) died behind the net when dropped from on top of it. Extended rallies are still an important part of the game, but let’s reward the really good shots and impose a little more of a penalty for poor ones. The old ball accomplished that.”

Source: Platform Tennis News, Spring 1991