Why Do Tennis Players Look at the Balls Before Serving?

Tennis, a game of skill, strategy, and precision, features numerous rituals and practices that the casual observer may not fully comprehend.

One such ritual involves the seemingly curious behavior of tennis players who inspect balls before serving.

This might appear to be nothing more than a peculiarity or superstition.

However, there are very practical reasons behind this action.

Evaluating the Condition of the Ball

Tennis balls are more than just spherical objects; they play a critical role in how the game unfolds.

Before serving, a player will typically inspect a few balls passed to them by the ball boy or girl.

They are checking for wear and tear – fluffiness, flatness, or any imperfections that might affect the ball’s performance in flight.

Balls with more fluff tend to move slower and bounce higher, making them more suitable for baseline rallies or when the player wishes to use more topspin.

On the other hand, less fluffy balls are faster and bounce lower, making them preferable for serving and hitting flat, hard shots. Or they might not be as reliable for playing with.

This examination allows players to choose the ball that best suits their strategy at a given moment.

Considering the Age of the Ball

The age of a tennis ball also plays a significant role in the player’s choice.

Over time and use, balls tend to lose pressure and become softer, causing them to bounce differently and travel slower through the air.

Players often prefer the newer balls for their serves, as these provide the optimum speed and bounce.

In professional tennis, new balls are introduced into play after the first seven games, and every nine games subsequently.

This means players have to constantly adapt to the changing ball conditions. By selecting the freshest balls for their serves, they can maximize their advantage.

Looking for Tactical Advantage

Another reason players inspect balls before serving lies in the realm of strategy.

By taking their time choosing the best ball, players can disrupt the rhythm of the game, potentially unsettling their opponent. This is a psychological tactic as much as it is a practical one.

This is analogous to bouncing a ball multiple times before a serve.

Also, the action of looking at the balls allows a brief moment for players to collect their thoughts, regain energy, plan their next move, and mentally prepare for the point ahead.

This respite can be critical, particularly in high-pressure situations where every point matters.

What tennis pros look at when they pick a ball

FAQs – Why Do Tennis Players Look at the Balls Before Serving?

1. Why do tennis players look at the balls before serving?

Tennis players look at the balls before serving for several reasons.

It is a part of their pre-serve routine, and it serves multiple purposes to enhance their performance on the court.

2. What information do tennis players gather by looking at the balls before serving?

By examining the balls before serving, tennis players gather valuable information about their condition, such as their fuzziness, wear, and overall quality.

This information helps them gauge how the ball might behave during the serve and plan their strategy accordingly.

3. How does the condition of the ball affect a player’s serve?

The condition of the ball can significantly impact a player’s serve.

A brand new ball with fresh fuzz will have more grip on the court’s surface, allowing the player to generate more spin and control.

Conversely, a worn-out ball may have reduced grip, resulting in less control and spin.

By inspecting the balls, players can adapt their technique and adjust their shot selection accordingly.

4. Can the weight of the ball influence a player’s serve?

Yes, the weight of the ball can have an impact on a player’s serve.

Tennis balls tend to get heavier as they absorb moisture from the court or the environment.

Heavier balls can be more challenging to accelerate and control, affecting the player’s ability to generate power and accuracy.

By assessing the weight of the balls before serving, players can anticipate how the ball might behave and adjust their swing accordingly.

5. Does the bounce of the ball change depending on its condition?

Certainly, the bounce of a tennis ball can vary based on its condition.

A new ball tends to have a higher bounce because of its extra fluffiness and elasticity. As the ball gets used, the fuzz wears off, reducing its bounce.

By observing the balls before serving, players can estimate how the bounce might change throughout the match and adapt their footwork and positioning accordingly.

6. Do tennis players check the balls for any defects?

Yes, tennis players often inspect the balls for any defects before serving.

A defect such as a visible seam or a puncture can affect the ball’s flight path, speed, and bounce.

By identifying defects beforehand, players can choose to replace the ball or adjust their technique to compensate for any irregularities during the serve.

7. How does looking at the balls help tennis players mentally prepare?

Examining the balls before serving serves as a part of the player’s mental preparation.

It allows them to focus their attention on the task at hand, block out distractions, and enter a state of concentration.

By taking a moment to observe the balls, players can center themselves, visualize their desired shots, and build confidence before starting their service motion.

8. Are there any rules or guidelines regarding ball inspection?

Tennis has specific rules and guidelines regarding ball inspection.

Players are generally allowed to inspect the balls during the pre-serve routine, ensuring it does not unduly delay the match.

They can visually inspect the balls, feel their texture, and bounce them a few times on the court to assess their condition.

However, players cannot alter the ball’s condition deliberately, such as by squeezing or scuffing it, as it would be considered an act of misconduct.

9. Can players request a ball change if they find the balls unsuitable?

Yes, players have the right to request a ball change if they find the balls unsuitable for play.

This request is typically made to the chair umpire or the ball person, who will assess the validity of the request based on the ball’s condition and the rules of the tournament.

If the request is approved, the current ball will be replaced with a new one that meets the player’s satisfaction.

10. Is looking at the balls a common practice among professional tennis players?

Yes, looking at the balls before serving is a common practice among professional tennis players.

It is an integral part of their pre-serve routine and helps them gather important information about the ball’s condition.

By doing so, players can optimize their technique, adjust their strategy, and increase their chances of executing a successful serve.


The act of inspecting balls before serving is thus an integral part of tennis, combining considerations of ball condition, tactical advantage, and psychological preparation.

It’s a prime example of how attention to detail can impact performance in sport and a reminder that in tennis, as in many things, every little thing counts.

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