In football, so many emotions were aroused a decade ago by Jabulani, prepared especially for the World Cup in South Africa. “The worst ball in history” – goalkeepers described it, irritated by its unpredictable flight. Ivory Coast coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson wanted to organize a meeting with FIFA representatives so that they could listen to what the players had to say about it.
English defender Jaime Carragher went a step further: “This football favors the Germans,” he said, almost airing the plot of its producer Adidas with the team that Jabulani played in the league as one of the first.
Now, the smaller ball is even louder in Paris, because the organizers of the Roland Garros tournament, exchanged Babolata for a new Wilson product. “I wouldn’t even let my dog chew this ball,” summed up Daniel Evans, who, despite playing with a Wilson racket, did not hesitate to criticize the ball from the same manufacturer. Although he spoke out loud about her only after losing the match with Kei Nishikori. However, he was not alone in his remarks.
– Before coming here, I trained with these new balls at my place in Manacor (Nadal’s birthplace and training center – ed.). Even when it was warm, they were free. Here in Paris, coupled with the cold, these balls are like stones, commented Rafel Nadal, the twelve-time winner of the French tournament who is still at the party. Perhaps that is the crux of the matter. At Roland Garros courts, tennis players must play “stones” not in summer, but in autumn. The combination of the two seems to be more disturbing with one, the other indifferent, and the third giving a slight advantage.
Cold day – free tennis
Simona Halep, Coco Gauff or Johanna Konta in tights and blouses with long sleeves are a rare sight on the Grand Slam courts. Besides, Iga Świątek also dresses warmly for the French competition. No wonder, at the beginning of the event the tennis players played some games at 10 degrees Celsius. Now it is only a bit warmer in the evenings in the French capital. It will be rainy until the end of the week and there will be little sun. Changing clothes can help players maintain their body temperature, but what happens around them is not affected.
– I’ll be honest. It’s a bit too cold in here, smiled Simona Halep. – This is not the usual Roland Garros where the balls bounce high and the courts are faster. We will have to get used to it every day – added Viktoria Azarenka, one of the favorites to win the tournament. She did not have time to get used to the new realities. She was eliminated from the French Open in the second round. Frozen Halep was packing suitcases for the 1/8 finals (losing to Iga Świątek). In the second week of the Paris competition, there were few names for well-known fans. In the WTA tournament in the 1/8 finals, we had 6 debutants and five of the men. In the era of a pandemic and fragmented season, dropping everything on the weather and new balls would be a simplification, but since tennis players have raised a cry and even talk about their dogs or stones, it is worth taking a look at the Parisian aura.
First, warm air is less dense than cold air, which allows the ball to move faster. This one meets less resistance. This is especially important for a tennis ball that does not have a smooth surface.
Second, higher temperatures increase the speed and kinetic energy of the molecules inside the ball. What is important during its rebound from the court. The faster the particles inside the ball move, the higher it will bounce. In addition, the ball used on a cool, wet day will also take on water. If it additionally bounces off the flour they play on in Paris, some of the soil will still stick to it. Probably for this reason the players playing in Paris in the cool and damp referred to the tournament balls as “bullets” or “stones”. During the tournament, players or commentators quite often use the terms “not feeling a kick” or “looking for distance”. New balls do not make this search easier, which is confirmed by tests.
A dozen or so centimeters make a difference
Wilson’s from 2020, in the research published by the journal “L’Equipe”, with the Babolates used in 2019, appear pale, or actually not so viable. The test consisted of dropping the ball from a height of 2.54 meters and measuring how high it would bounce. The first tests were performed under optimal conditions. Among the three companies that applied for a contract with the French Open for 2020-2024, Babolat products fared best. The company’s ball bounced to a height of 1.47 m, Wilson’s product reached 1.43 m, and the ball signed by Head jumped 1.38 m. The same test in a cooler climate, i.e. at 15 degrees and with the balls cooled to this very temperature showed even greater differences. Babolat reached 1.4 m, while Wilson reached 1.32 m and Head did not exceed 1.25 m.
Tournament director Guy Forget defends his choice. He points out that the balls (without trademarks) have been tested by leading tennis players, checked by engineers and meet all the requirements set by their producers. Apparently, when choosing a supplier, it was not so important that the contract with Wilson was 3 million more advantageous than the one with Babolat.
– The weather conditions are special, but this is the charm of tennis. In this game you have to be able to adapt to different things. Some people reduce the strings of the rackets by a few kilograms, others complain about the ball. I am far from the complainers and those who praise the ball. I am in the middle – illustrated Forget.
Moisture and cold? This is Polish tennis normalcy
For some the topic of balls is a substitute topic, for others it is key and known for a long time. Mats Wilander, who won Roland Garros in 1982, 1985 and 1988, knows exactly why he did so well then. – I played Penn in those years. I couldn’t play with other slower balls then games. In 1983, with a heavier ball, I wasn’t able to lift it the way I wanted. I did not feel her distance, I was looking for a solution for two weeks – recalls the Swedish tennis star, today a commentator of this discipline.
Perhaps this year’s “slightly hardcore” as Iga Świątek’s dad calls him, Roland Garros favors those who can adapt to difficult conditions most efficiently, because they know them well.
– For me, the key thing is to change the date of this tournament. Changing the warm Parisian turn of May and June into cold and wet October – Adam Romer, editor-in-chief of the Tenisklub magazine tells us.
– If I had to judge, Novak Djoković is the greatest beneficiary of the autumn weather for men. With ladies, I imagine that she disturbs Petra Kvitova the most, who feels best on the fast courts, which she confirmed by winning Wimbledon. But among the female players she is one of the most experienced, which again compensates for these problems. From many interviews with Iga Świątek or Austrian Dominic Thiem, one can get the impression that these conditions did not bother them, that for someone who grew up in these latitudes, they are even a standard. I think that Italians, Spaniards and Argentines feel more discomfort on the courts in Paris, says Romer.
– Most of the Polish players, including this generation of Iga, practiced tennis at 7.00 am under the balloons. Damp and cold are normal for us, agrees Joanna Sakowicz, former player, now a tennis coach and commentator. – I remember that when the ball reached the end of the court, where the moldy balloon met the ground, it usually fell into puddles of condensed water. She was wet, she looked terrible, had to be kicked off the court several times. I have the impression that we are used to playing with a heavy ball – adds Sakowicz, who also draws attention to the excellent physical strength of the Polish woman.
If the peaks in the French autumn aura are really “stones” or “missiles”, then Światek fires them perfectly. “The Guardian” informed that in the match against Simona Halep, the 19-year-old played one of the backhand balls at a speed of 122 km / h, and in the forehand it was 5 km / h more. These results are comparable with the parameters obtained by the best men in women’s tennis known only to Serena Williams. It is hard to resist the impression that Świątek achieved the semi-final of the Grand Slam thanks to his skills, cleverness, precision and strength. After the game with Italian Martina Trevisan, it was hard Agnieszka Radwańska complimented her in an interview with Łukasz Jachimiak.
– Iga hit the ball harder. With more rotation, at the right angle, with the right depth. The ease, ease with which Iga hits the ball from the end line, this is her amazing weapon – described Radwańska, noting that the Polish woman is not disturbed by strong wind and aura.
– Tennis is a sport in which defeat is not far from winning. That is why players often look for the reasons for failures not only around them – smiles Romer.
“If we ask the winners about the ball at the end of the tournament, I’m sure they will say” the ball is great “, concludes Forget. May Swiatek say that on Saturday, when the women’s final of the tournament is planned.