Tennis

Improving Ball Equality: Same Ball to be Used for Women and Men at 2023 US Open

The 2022 US Open faced significant criticism from players due to the use of different balls for men and women’s matches. Addressing these concerns, tournament director Stacey Allaster recently announced that the same ball would be used for both genders during the 2023 event. This decision was made after thorough feedback from players. In an effort to provide equal opportunities, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) took into account the concerns raised by athletes and will be using the ball preferred by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) going forward.

Acknowledging the players’ feedback, Allaster stated that the USTA typically adheres to the ball preferences of the WTA. She revealed that during the 2022 tournament, several players expressed their desire to change the ball. Allaster encouraged these players to communicate their concerns to WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon and their player council representatives. She assured them that if the WTA wished to modify the ball, no additional cost would be incurred, and Wilson, the ball provider, would accommodate the change.

However, Allaster mentioned that the USTA requested the WTA to inform them of the ball preference for the 2023 US Open at the conclusion of the 2022 tournament. This decision was made to allow Wilson sufficient lead time to produce the required number of balls.

Before the start of the 2022 US Open, top-ranked player Iga Swiatek expressed her disappointment in the quality of the balls used in the tournament. Swiatek described them as “horrible” and questioned why women couldn’t use the same balls as the men. Additionally, she faced difficulty practicing with the same balls used during the tournament as they were not available in Europe. As a result, Swiatek had to train with the men’s balls, which posed challenges in adequately preparing for the championship.

Swiatek, along with Paula Badosa, then ranked No. 4 in the world, approached Simon to voice their concerns about the unfavorable conditions created by the balls. Badosa supported Swiatek’s opinion, stating so on her Instagram story. The US Open became the sole major tournament to feature different balls for men and women.

In response to the feedback from the players, Amy Binder, the WTA’s senior vice president of global communications, assured that the organization would consider the players’ concerns for future tournaments. While the WTA had traditionally used regular felt balls for hardcourt play, Binder acknowledged that an increasing number of athletes desired a change to the extra-duty ball. The primary concern behind using regular felt balls was to minimize the risk of arm, shoulder, elbow, and wrist injuries. However, binder agreed that ongoing discussions with athletes and sports science teams were necessary to ensure the best decision moving forward.

Allaster confirmed that the new balls were put to the test during the Canadian Open and the ongoing Western & Southern Open. Currently, this change is temporary and will be treated as a trial phase. Allaster expressed that the WTA’s decision at the end of the 2023 US Open would determine whether they would continue using the Wilson extra-duty balls or revert to the regular felt balls. Ultimately, the athletes’ preferences hold utmost importance in shaping future decisions regarding the choice of balls.

The USTA’s decision to use the same ball for both women and men at the 2023 US Open signifies a significant step towards achieving ball equality in tennis. Considering the feedback from players and their desire for equal treatment, this decision showcases a commitment to providing a level playing field for all athletes. By working closely with the WTA and taking players’ concerns into account, the USTA has demonstrated its dedication to creating a fair and inclusive sporting environment. As the tennis world eagerly awaits the start of the US Open later this month, this progressive decision will undoubtedly contribute to a more equitable and exciting tournament.

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