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How often do they change the tennis balls in a match and why do they do it?

With the 2023 US Open nearing it’s climax, we can assume tens of thousands of balls have been used at the Flushing Meadows, but just how many are we talking about?

With the 2023 US Open nearing it's climax, we can assume thousands of balls have been used at the Flushing Meadows, but just how many are we talking about?

As the fourth and final Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year, the US Open has been in play for 142 years. Now, while the tournament is steeped in history and tradition, if you look around the compound you will find that everything is new, even the tennis balls with which the players play.

Nothing like the sound of opening a can of balls

The competition is fierce and the stakes are high. And the balls have a pop to them that is just as audible on TV as it is inside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

That sound of the tennis ball popping off the racket is familiar to any tennis player, from preteen summer campers to US Open champions. Even novices like me can appreciate the sound and smell of a fresh can of balls.

In the professional game, players are afforded many luxuries that you and I aren’t lucky enough to enjoy. From ball girls and boys to towels that are readily on hand for sweat, to water, Gatorade and any other beverage that they might want, it’s pampering 101. Indeed, it definitely beats you and me running around the court to collect our own balls, buying our own water, and reusing the same towel we used in the gym earlier that week.

ATP and ITF have strict rules when it comes to their balls

That’s right. Not only are there line judges and chair umpires, who remove the arguments we have about whether the ball was in or not, but they’ve also got new tennis balls to play with any time they wish. That’s right. While we mere mortals are forced to hit the same balls that we ourselves bought, sometimes those which we gave our dogs while playing fetch, the pros are out there going things balls like sand on a beach.

Maybe my tennis experiences aren’t the same as someone who takes it more seriously and pays a monthly fee to be a member of a club, but even those club members are usually hitting the same pack or two of balls for the entirety of their match. So, just what are the rules when it comes to ball replacement? In the professional game, the first set of balls are to be used for the first seven games, and then balls are changed every ninth game thereafter according to ATP and ITF rules,. Each ball chance consists of two sleeves or six balls.

Over 70,000 used at US Open

Throughout the course of the US Open, there are tens of thousands of balls that are used from qualifiers all the way up to the final match. According to a report by the New York Times, the Open generally stocks about 100,000 new balls and goes through about 70,000 each year.

In Flushing Meadows, used balls are often sold to fans as memorabilia. Any left over are sent away to be ground down and recycled, turned into flooring material.