Lost in all the Miami Open upsets and the discussion about equal pay for male and female tennis players earlier this week was the revelation of a little-known fact: Men and women play with slightly different balls at most tournaments, including the one on Key Biscayne.
World No. 2 Andy Murray got extremely irritated during his second-round victory over Denis Istomin last Saturday night when, serving and facing break point at 2-2 in the second set, he was handed a ball with a red Penn logo, indicating it was a women’s ball. He noticed it as he was about to bounce the ball.
The men’s and women’s ball is the same size and pressure, but the men use extra-duty felt, which tends to slow the speed, and women use regular-duty felt, which makes the ball a bit livelier. The men’s ball has a black stamp.
Murray complained to umpire Mohamed Lahyani and said: “That’s one of the women’s balls, and I could have hit a shot with it.”
Lahyani told him he could not see the ball logo from his chair.
At the next change of ends, Murray went on: “For me that’s not good enough; it’s unacceptable. Unacceptable to have one of those balls in there.”
Murray said he thinks perhaps the ball had been left behind from a women’s match, maybe in a courtside flower bed, and an unsuspecting ballperson picked it up and put it into the men’s match rotation.
“I saw it just before I was about to serve,” Murray said. “It’s quite off-putting because I just missed two balls long. I didn’t know if that was one of the balls I used in the last couple points. The women’s balls are very different to the men’s balls. They’re much quicker, smaller, livelier.
Asked why men and women use balls with different coating, the tournament referee’s office replied: “Generally speaking, clay and hard courts have different characteristics and affect a ball differently. A hard court will remove the cover (felt) due to the friction while a clay court will not. So balls are made differently for surfaces. The WTA prefer the regular duty ball, as it has a lighter feel on a hard court while the ATP prefer the heavier feel of an extra duty ball.”