Tennis Australia has renewed its deal with the manufacturer Dunlop for another five years, despite criticism from several top players over the quality of balls at this year’s Australian Open.
The likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are among those who have complained about the balls, which they say wear down quickly and lose pressure, becoming softer and making it more difficult to hit winners.
The condition of the balls, their detractors say, has resulted in longer rallies, which might make for entertaining tennis but have led to longer matches and, in turn, later finishes – a major point of controversy at this tournament.
TA first switched from Wilson to Dunlop for the 2019 tournament, with the manufacturer claiming at the time that “players often refer to the Dunlop balls as being the best on tour”. This year in Melbourne, however, complaints from players have blighted the first week of play.
Despite the player backlash, Dunlop will to continue to service the Australian Open until at least 2028.
“Tennis Australia and Dunlop have renewed their partnership for a further five years,” a TA spokesperson said. “Dunlop has a long history of producing high-quality tennis balls with consistency, durability and little variance. Dunlop is the most-used ball on the international tennis tour.
“Player satisfaction is vital and we will continue to gather feedback from the playing group and ensure it is factored in to the design, manufacturing and testing process.”
Top seed Nadal described the balls, which appear to fluff up quickly, as “worse quality” than the previous year at Melbourne Park, while Murray labelled them “flat”. Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic said they were slower than before and seriously affected play.
After demonstrating the balls’ lack of bounce to the umpire during his second round match against Alex Molcan, Canada’s Felix Auger Aliassime said the situation was “crazy” and the balls “terrible”.
Jack Draper, who is sponsored by Dunlop, said: “They start off flying a lot. Then all of a sudden they get quite fluffy. A couple of them went very soft very quickly. I sort of gave them to the ref.”
Dunlop said the balls that have come in for criticism over the past week were no different to those used in previous years, and tournament director Craig Tiley argued that the weather conditions – chiefly humidity this year – had changed player perception of the balls.
John McEnroe, the seven-time grand slam champion-turned commentator, dismissed the furore and said the debate over ball quality was “much to do about pretty much nothing”.
“But of course, I’m just a commentator, so way back when I was a player, you would be amped up or anxious about pretty much everything,” he told Eurosport. “‘Oh it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too windy, I play too late, I play too early, the tension is not right in my racket, the balls get too heavy’.”
“Of course, the balls get heavier after the way these guys and girls hit it now. How about you bring rackets with different tensions? So that after three or four games, if in fact the balls are getting heavier or you think they are getting heavier, use the frame with slightly looser strengths.”
Dunlop’s website says the manufacturer has been “obsessively crafting every tennis ball that we produce” since 1923.
“Tennis, and the surfaces that the game is played on, have seen a lot of change over the years. So, we pack every ball with our expertise and passion, to develop a ball that behaves the same for every player on every court,” it said.