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Study Shows Materials Technologies Can Affect the Outcome of Tennis Matches

Professional tennis could be played under more standardised conditions following research carried out by University of Bath student.

The research, funded by the International Tennis Federation, looked at the effect that different temperatures have on the court and the tennis balls.

By understanding more about the effects of heat, the game’s organisers can ensure that extreme conditions that could be unfair to players can be avoided.

The research was carried out by Matthew Downing, for his Sports Technology degree, and his findings included:

  • that ‘pressureless’ tennis balls, which have no air pressure inside and thicker rubber, are less variable in performance
  • that playing under higher temperatures slows down play because ordinary pressurised tennis balls get softer and so absorb more energy on impact
  • that the carpet type of court surface gets softer under higher temperatures, which also slow play down. Acrylic surfaces are not slowed down as significantly when hotter.

The research by Mr Downing, a keen amateur tennis player, is the first to tackle the question of temperature on the performance of tennis balls and courts.

“The point of the research is that it can help tennis authorities to ensure that conditions do not become so varied because of temperature changes that they are unfair to players,” he said.

“If players are facing very slow play during one game and very fast during another when the temperature falls or the court surfaces changes, it makes it difficult for them to prepare effectively.

“It’s not that the tennis authorities want to standardise the game completely, as different conditions encourage different styles of playing, but they want to avoid extremes.”

The International Tennis Federation has recently improved its Court Pace Rating – which gives an idea of how quick or slow a court is for the players, in the light of research by another Bath graduate, James Spurr.

He found that it was not simply the speed of the ball bouncing off the court surface that influenced players’ views on the speed of the court. It was also how high the ball bounced – a lower bounce gives a player less preparation time for a shot, so making the court feel faster, for instance.

As a result of this, the height of the ball after bounce is measured before deciding the Court Pace Rating, and not just the speed of the ball after it bounces.

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