A rule that can cause injuries to players

MELBOURNE-. In the prelude to Australian Open, defending champion Novak Djokovic He suffered discomfort in his right wrist. It was hardly ideal for a tennis player who hits the ball primarily with that arm.

Cam Norrie, seeded 19th in the tournament, has suffered similar pain, as has Brenda Fruhvirtova, who is one of a trio of 16-year-old players who reached the second round at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic, Norrie and Fruhvirtova did not go so far as to attribute the problems to modifications in the balls used year-round at the highest levels of the sport. But they also did not deny that this could be the cause.

For some time now, some tennis players have wondered if their wrists, elbows, shoulders and other parts of the body involved in hitting rackets at speeds that usually average 160 (100 mph) are at greater risk due to the need to constantly adapt to projectiles that are more heavy or light, slow or fast, soft or hard, in relation to those they used one, two or three weeks before.

The WTA and ATP professional tours are finally willing to look into the matter. They announced just before the start of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year that they are carrying out a “strategic review” of the balls, although they do not foresee any changes before 2025.

“I hope you can clarify this. “It seems very far away,” said 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic. “It seems like they’re just postponing everything.”

Taylor Fritz, a 26-year-old Californian who is seeded 12th in Melbourne — the highest among Americans — is among the players who are worried. He commented that, at the end of each season, when the ATP asks tennis players what they think could improve in the sport, he always mentions the fluctuations between tennis balls.

“When I was younger… I didn’t get hurt that easily. I’ve been feeling it,” Fritz said.

“It’s not so much that a specific ball hurts us. In some cases it is. But it all has more to do with the fact that you get used to one and, when you make a change to something that is heavier, the wrist or elbow suffers the force,” he explained. “Everyone is different, they hit different, they grip the racket differently. You are not trained to deal with any change in what you apply force to. “You’re trained to maybe hit a lighter ball, so just the change causes problems.”

According to the WTA, the most frequent injuries that occurred on tour during the last four years were the foot (17%) or thigh (13%). Wrist or shoulder problems come next, with a combined total of 18.5%.

Ten tennis ball brands and 19 types were used in the WTA in 2023. A similar number of brands appeared in the ATP.

You just have to imagine what would happen if the NBA used that many balls or if the NFL used that variety of balls during a season. What if FIFA used so many different balls during a World Cup?

Of course, no one does. Everyone sticks to a brand.

“Just time to play with what they give me,” said British Katie Boulter. “This does change week to week.”

A significant difference between tennis and other sports is that the surfaces change, which in turn leads to the adoption of different balls. The Australian Open and the United States Open are held on hard courts. It is competed on clay at Roland Garros and on grass at Wimbledon.

Some players, like two-time major champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, want consistency in every portion of the season. But now each tournament chooses its own sponsor or ball supplier.

Money, as is often the case in the world of sports, is what decides.

Fritz and Alcaraz noted that the tournaments leading up to last year’s US Open were held with four different balls over a four-week stretch.

Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka joined Fritz in suggesting a solution: A universal ball that varies its mark from week to week.

“If you ask me: Should we make changes to the balls? Yes, absolutely,” commented the Belarusian. “We should have similar consistency.”